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Chokepoint: How to Thrive Under Pressure

You want to learn a dirty trick?

Find someone who can do something well, ask them something specific about how they do it, and watch them do it again. Let’s use an example from sports.

Say a quarterback is playing in a football game. His arm is like a cannon. He connects to his receivers with perfect precision. At halftime, someone watching the game gets a chance to praise the quarterback.

That was amazing! How do you throw the ball at that angle? Your elbow flares out so much. I don’t know how you do it.”

Malicious or not, this person just planted a seed.

He’s back on the field. But something is off.

The quarterback’s concentration is divided. He is no longer 100% focused on getting the ball to his receivers. Part of his attention is instead focused on himself and the odd angle his elbow takes when he throws the ball. He has never noticed this before. He has become aware that his movements are being scrutinized and evaluated.

He also thinks about how good he is, and how good people expect him to be.

Rather than being immersed in his own joyful flow state, he has become effectively self-conscious.

It’s a crucial play now, and he needs to get the ball to his most trusted man. Meanwhile, he’s thinking, “I have to show them I can win with this weird elbow flare. But how do I do that? How do I even throw the ball like this!?”

With one eye on his elbow, and one eye on his man, compounded with a sense of “having to get it right”, he is nose to nose in his own way.

Pass intercepted. They lose.

Defeated by self-imposed pressure, he choked.

Choking and Improvisation

Let’s reexamine what happened to our quarterback and what he could have done differently.

In this TED talk, the presenter talks about the principles of improvisation and how they apply to life.

The best principles for our quarterback to remember from this talk are play and letting yourself fail. These mindsets would have saved him from missing his pass.

Allowing Yourself to Fail and Just Play

In allowing yourself to fail a task, you become free from all expectations, including your own.

Thoughts like, “I must not fail,” stem from the idea of an evaluative performance. Of being watched. This is how you think if your self-worth is determined by others, and not you.

What if you took it in the other direction?

Watch me fail” challenges the thought “I must not fail.” This is addressing the fear of judgement head on. This takes away your judges’ power and restores your perspective. And even if you do fail, you will support yourself, you will adapt, you will improvise, and you will bounce back.

It is a declaration of self-sovereignty. See me. Judge me. You don’t determine my worth. I do.

The quarterback’s sudden compulsion to keep his reputation made him desperate to “not fail” at throwing a football, a task he has accomplished thousands of times already.

It is the quarterback’s own sense of purpose that his team succeeds. He loves winning games. He loves passing the ball. He loves watching his teammates succeed. This is his mode of play. He stopped respecting himself the second he needed everyone to approve of him. And everyone suffered as a result.

Allowing yourself to fail, or rather, allowing yourself to be, is a trust fall into your own arms.

You might ask, “But what if the stakes are high (like for our quarterback), and failure is truly not an option?” This leads into the other mindset change our quarterback needed.

Complete Focus

Our quarterback’s focus was not 100% on his task. 50% of his attention was paid to the player he was targeting and the other 50% was to the awkward angle of his arm. Before this moment, thousands of hours of practice and experience had given him a natural passing intuition.

He had reached the 4th stage of the four stages of competence. He was unconsciously competent at throwing a football. His execution required no thought or second guessing.

But that elbow comment made him once again conscious and analytical of his ability. Instead of trusting what he knows he can do, he kicked himself back into the 3rd stage, the learning stage. Overcoming this kind of self sabotage in important moments can be summed up like this:

Focus on WHAT you are doing, not HOW you are doing it.

Focusing on the how is for practice and experimentation, not for a real game.

You don’t have to obsessively check how you are doing something if you know you can do it. You don’t have to be self-conscious if you have faith in your abilities, and you respect your honest self-expression.

Trusting the how is trusting yourself, and your experience. This is what leads to that elusive moment everyone says you need to be in. You need to let go of yourself and see what is happening right in front of you to get there.

When you are in the moment, awareness of yourself is lost, and you are completely immersed in the task, or the conversation, or the experience.

This is what “losing yourself” is. And this is the difference between trying and doing.

The Definition of Confidence

Freedom in trusting yourself. Confident self reliance. Taking pressure off yourself.

Do you know the origin of the word confidence?

It is derived from the Latin word fidere’ which means “to trust”. Or to have faith. Confidence, before anything else, is faith in oneself. Not obsessive self control.

If you express as you are, you can let go.

High pressure situations will always be difficult to deal with. Getting into a flow state and trusting yourself is not easy, but it can be done. Keep these two principles in mind.

1). Remember why you are doing what you are doing, and allow yourself to be seen.

2). Reorient your focus onto what you are doing, not how you are doing it.

The more self-faith you have, the more focus you bring to your task, and the stronger your sense of purpose, the more you will discover how capable you are, even under the heaviest pressure.

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