Do you get nervous when a big audition or performance comes up? Does the feeling of your heart pounding, breathing getting faster, and breaking out into a sweat freak you out? Performing well under pressure is a goal of every performer, and a better understanding of the psychology of our brain and how it works can help you thrive under pressure.
1. Interpret positively. When your heart is racing and palms are sweaty, tell yourself,“I am amped up for this moment. I am not freaking out. This is how my body meets the challenges it faces.” A recent Harvard study noticed that for participants who viewed and labeled their moments of stress as energizing and helpful, their blood vessels stayed opened and relaxed, the exact same body profile exhibited during moments of joy and courage.
2. Practice under mild pressure and in front of people. Even practicing under mild levels of stress can prevent you from choking when high levels of stress come around. Find ways to create small levels of stress like performing in front of a video camera or for a friend who purposely tries to distract you slightly. As an example, while Tiger Woods would practice, his dad would roll balls across Tiger’s line of sight and jingle change in his pocket.
3. Shut negative monologues down. Don’t think negatively about yourself. Internal monologue of worries is one of the biggest contributing factors to choking under pressure. Dr. Sian Beilock, author of “The Science of Choking” says, “Focusing on the negative or on what you might lose if you don’t succeed is one of the worst things an athlete or performer can do.” Excessive negative self-talk really ruts your performance.
4. Remember to breathe. Breathing helps the brain perform under pressure since lack of oxygen in the brain can cause even the most skilled professionals to perform poorly. Focus on your breathing for a few moments before you start, or as you sit in the waiting room. Take deep exhales and keep your breathing slow and relaxed.
5. Write your worries down on paper. Writing your worries down on paper about a performance or big event will help alleviate your working memory from being all used up during stress, so that you can have more working memory for the performance. Studies have shown in math tests that if you write your worries down for 10 minutes, you can improve performance by 15 percent. Putting your feelings into words changes how the brain deals with stressful information.
6. Meditate. There is neuroscience research showing that five minutes of meditation a day changes how the brain is wired to support performance. It helps our brains to let go of the negative thoughts and focus on the positive in those important situations, which we know is really important for performing our best.
7. Make a fist with your left hand. The Journal of Experimental Psychology found that athletes performed noticeably better in high pressure situations when they made a fist with their left hand. Why? Getting nervous comes from the left side of the brain and mechanical actions come from the right side. So by making a fist with your left hand, you activate your muscle memory (right side of the brain), and stop the freaking out (left side of the brain).
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