Why would an accomplished, experienced athlete competing for a spot in the Olympics suddenly flub an event? Why would an A student who has aced all the practice SAT tests get a mediocre score when it really mattered? That is, why do people choke? This is what Dr. Beilock examines in the course of this fascinating summary of psychological research done by herself and others on this subject.
The book reviews what is happening when a person “chokes” both behaviorally and neurologically. It appears that overthinking a situation can actually interfere with the automatic responses that training leads the body to perfect. Once your attention is drawn to the specific mechanics of a behavior (kicking a soccer ball, playing a piano concerto), what would be done automatically very smoothly is now pulled apart and diverted by the brain’s other areas becoming involved. Gradually, the book builds into suggesting what can be done to offset the possible risks of choking or remedies for people who have choked and need to get back onto a path of success. Not surprisingly, these can include focusing on the goal, meditation, writing down one’s anxieties and worries just before a performance/test, and practicing (although this is a gross over-simplification of her findings).
What makes this book readable is the inclusion of many anecdotes. Dr. Beilock uses both famous legends from sports history and stories from her own personal experiences from people she’s met through her work to enhance the narrative of the book. This both engages and clarifies and makes the reading fun. I found the psychological experiments remarkable and often surprising as well.
And for those of you who might be going on interviews sometime soon – well, there are tips for you, too. And they are really not what you would expect!
A very interesting read for anyone interested in psychology or sports or really being successful when it counts!