If you want to perform at the top of your game, give up the booze. Whether you are a litigating attorney, an executive running a company or negotiating a merger, an elite athlete, pilot or other to…
Why do otherwise high performers underperform when the stakes are raised?
- Because you take conscious control which undermines your practice.
The reason practice leads to competency is because it outsources skills from your conscious mind to your subconscious mind so you can perform those skills automatically.
We take for granted many of the skills controlled by our subconscious. Think of something you’re good at and break it down to the individual skills involved. For example, driving, which is automatic for most people, requires many skills. You need mechanical coordination to work the pedals and steering wheel, visual perception to stay in the lane and avoid accidents, and symbol recognition to read road signs and the various gauges on your dashboard. Let’s not forget the processing power to make quick decisions based on all of that information.
Despite having to use these skills simultaneously while driving, we no longer need to pay conscious attention to them. This extra brain power frees us to listen to audiobooks, carry a conversation, and even eat and drink while still smoothly driving to our destination.
For any skill, the more your subconscious takes over, the better you’ll be (granted you practice the skill properly).
All top performers outsource many of their skills to their subconscious. That’s why it looks effortless, because it is.
So what does this have to do with underperformance?
You underperform when you take conscious control of skills that have already been outsourced to the subconscious.
What you can do differently: Trust yourself and the time you’ve put in to practice. For situations where you’re executing a rehearsed skill, you are better off letting your subconscious stay in control. Of course, if you’ve been practicing bad habits, you will automatically perform in a less optimal way whether or not you consciously take control. To practice properly, get strong coaches that will give you specific feedback during your practice sessions.
2. Because you leave the present moment.
Think back to your best performances. What was going through your mind? You probably can’t remember thinking about anything. You were just in the moment — doing, not thinking.
Throughout our lives, we collect experiences and file them away for future use. Before high-stakes situations, our brain searches for and reviews similar experiences. It then projects the outcomes of those past experiences as the outcome for our upcoming situation. So if we’ve underperformed before when the stakes were high, we’re more likely to underperform again.
In addition to our own experiences, seeing others perform poorly can influence us as well. If your mind is filled with examples of people being nervous and freezing up during a speech, what do you think will happen right before your turn to speak?
When you flashback to the past to predict your future, you usually don’t take into account all of the training and practice that has occurred since that experience. A key idea to keep in mind is that your past experience is obsolete.
What you can do differently: Mentally rehearse successful outcomes. All memories are reconstructions, and your brain cannot tell which memories really happened and which ones were made up. Collect positive experiences to create a positive future. This will bring confidence as opposed to anxiety and self-doubt.
To focus on the now, pay attention to the input from your five senses. If you’re in a meeting, notice your breathing, the sounds in the room and the faces of your teammates. When your mind is occupied with the now, it won’t slip into the past or the future.
3. You phrase your thoughts in the negative.
The most common phrase people tell themselves when they have to perform in a high stakes situation is:
“Don’t mess up.”
Whether they’re thinking this or saying it out loud, it usually leads to one result:
When you tell yourself not to do something, you cannot help but to imagine doing it. Some people take it one step further and start “catastrophizing.” They imagine how performing poorly in this one presentation will destroy their careers. When your entire career is in jeopardy, it’s hard to stay relaxed and perform at your best.
What you can do differently: Focus on what you want to happen. If you are giving a big talk, tell yourself to “be engaging” as opposed to “don’t be boring.”
Deep down, we all want to do well. That is natural and normal. That is also why we put in the long hours. When the stakes are high, don’t try to rise to the occasion. Do what you’ve practiced to do and let it happen. If you’ve trained hard enough, you’ll do well. If you don’t get the results you want, train harder next time. Results are in the past and cannot be changed in the present.
Learn and move on.
To perform well in any situation:
- Trust your skills and all of the time you spent practicing.
- Visualize vividly the result you want before your performance.
- Focus on your five senses to stay in the present in the moment.
- Let go of the results and just do.
(Adapted from original article – Three Reasons Why You Choke Under Pressure)
Western science generally separates the human mind into two broad categories; the conscious mind and the subconscious mind. The conscious mind is responsible for things like short-term memory, logical and analytical thinking, and decision making (as in thinking on one’s feet); it is the part of our mind of which we are aware. The subconscious mind holds long-term memory, belief systems, associations, perceptions (and a whole lot more) and is the part of our mind that is, well, not so accessible. The conscious mind is able to process about 40 bits of information per second while the subconscious mind is believed to process upwards of 40 million bits per second. The take away here is not how many “bits” of information an average conscious or subconscious mind can process per second (after all, what constitutes a “bit” of information depends on an operational definition). The take away is the phrase “a whole lot.” The unconscious mind processes information a whole lot faster than the conscious mind (see “emphasis on basic” in above title).
“Why should I care about my subconscious mind and what does it have to do with trauma?”
Our conscious and subconscious minds process information very differently and without training, do not communicate with one another effectively. When we are stressed, our subconscious minds take over and we lose partial (or complete) access to our more conscious processes. This is how our subconscious mind doing its job.
Our subconscious mind has evolved to keep us safe. When we feel unsafe (and it is largely our unconscious mind that makes this determination) we transition into a more defensive state of consciousness that can feel like wariness on one end of a spectrum to a state of complete overwhelm known as fight or flight, on the other. The degree to which we our subconscious mind takes over and we move to the fight/flight end of the continuum is commensurate with access to our conscious mind – the more we transition into fight/flight, the less access we have to our conscious processes.
Some days, or maybe most days, you might feel like a passenger in the backseat of your own car. You are being driven to destinations you don’t want to go by a driver you didn’t pick. You feel stretched too thin. You are exhausted. You feel overwhelmed. You are attending events you’d rather not attend. Your to-do list is filled with tasks you don’t want to do. And the things you do want to do? Somehow those aren’t on the list. This might mean that you’re living life by default, not by design. Thankfully, this is something you can change. In his eye-opening book Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less author Greg McKeown shares valuable tips on how we can start living (and working) by design. Essentialism is pursuing less and better (versus trying to get everything done). It is constantly asking the question: “Am I investing in the right activities?” And by “right,” he means whatever is essential to you. It is being deliberate and thoughtful about our days. Below are several tips