You’re standing up in front of a room full of people, and you’ve just dived into your speech that you’ve rehearsed a million times, when all of a sudden, something terrible happens: you forget your lines. Even worse, as you try to recover from the awkward silence and get back on track, you do it clumsily, stuttering and stammering, making nervous, awkward gestures, etc… “Choking,” “bombing,” “flubbing…” If you’ve ever had to perform under pressure, you might be all too familiar with these terms.
Psychology professor, Sian Beilock, has written a new book on this very subject, appropriately titled, Choke. In her book, Beilock talks about “paralysis by analysis,” which means that when we think too much about something that should come as second nature to us, we tend to botch it up because our thoughts are getting in the way and occupying parts of the brain that would otherwise be focused on the task at hand.
This concept makes perfect sense. Think about it: What happens when you have to perform under a high level of stress? Maybe your heart starts to race; maybe you begin to sweat and jitter; but most assuredly, you begin to worry, and worrying causes you to focus too much on what you’re actually doing instead of just doing it. If you’re a golfer, maybe you’ve noticed that you always drive better when you’re practicing on the driving range than when you’re actually playing on the course. Why? Because you are too worried about the outcome, and those worrying thoughts are getting in the way of what you should really be focusing on: hitting the ball.
Mindfulness meditation can be used as a technique to quiet the nervous chatter in your mind when you have to perform under pressure. Whether you’re a professional athlete, public speaker, comedian, musician, or you just have to give an important presentation at work; mindfulness can help you develop a mind that is calm and focused when the stakes are high. You don’t have to become a meditation guru and spend months chanting in the middle of nowhere. Practicing mindfulness meditation for just 15 to 20 minutes a day can get you on the path to success.
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