How to avoid the choke

Choking is defined as “an elevation in anxiety and arousal, under extreme pressure which leads to a critical deterioration in a performance which is normally habitual to that performer” (Gucciardi, Longbottom, Jackson & Dimmock, 2010).

It has therefore been argued that choking is not only something that occurs in sport, but is something we face in day to day life. For example, think about the following situation: you’re about to give an important presentation that could lead to a new position at work. You’ve rehearsed it well and you feel in control. Just before you’re about go in to present, your boss announces that the managing director is also going to be listening. You start to feel really anxious and start thinking about all of the things that could go wrong. Your palms become sweaty, your heart races and you lose all sense of calm. As a result of your nerves, you bumble through the presentation, speaking too quickly and missing key points. You’ve choked.

This is something that’s very common in high pressure work situations. But it can easily be prevented. Here are three simple techniques to help prevent you choking:

1. Practice under pressure

It’s been shown that training or rehearsing in a high pressure environment can reduce the chances of choking in the real high pressure situation. This could mean rehearsing your presentation in front of a colleague, your family or a friend.

2. Focus on the outcome

In a presentation or interview situation, instead of thinking about all the things you don’t want to say, or the things that could go wrong, focus on all of the things you do want to say and the perfect end result.

3. Visualise your past performances

Imagine or recall yourself doing one of your best presentations. Try to remember how you felt before, during and after. Remind yourself how good you really can be if you apply yourself.

4. Squeeze your left hand (yes really!)

A new study in a group of sportsmen and women found that when they squeezed their left hand into a fist for 30 seconds in a high pressure situation, it prevented choking. The reasoning behind this is that squeezing your left hand triggers the right side of the brain – the side of the brain that controls automatic, highly practised performance. This may cross over into all high pressure situations such as public speaking and interviews. So next time you start to feel anxious, try it!

Written by Dr. Noel Duncan