See Inside February/March 2009

How to Avoid Choking under Pressure

Afraid of crumbling when it counts? Try not to think so hard.


You’ve practiced your big presentation a thousand times. Your last rehearsal was perfect, and you’re ready to go. You tell yourself that for the real thing, you will focus on keeping your voice up, smiling, and enunciating clearly and slowly. Suddenly, at the podium, you freeze—all your preparation is for naught as you stand there like a deer in headlights. What happened?

You choked— and we all have had the experience. But why do we sometimes, without warning, inexplicably screw up just when it matters most? The answer lies in the way our brains are structured. When we have practiced something so well that we no longer need to think about it, subconscious processing systems are at work. When we then slow down to focus on these “automated” actions, we can thwart those processes, tripping ourselves up. And a raft of recent research is revealing who drops the ball and when, yielding surprising insights that could help frequent flubbers leave their self-sabotaging tendencies behind.

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