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Don’t control every detail

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Roger Quinn ▼ | September 26, 2010
Did you ever ruin a key presentation despite all your experience? If you didn't don't worry, you will. If you did, keep reading to see why that's happening and how to avoid it in the future.
Bad performanceDid you ever ruin a key presentation despite all your experience? If you didn't don't worry, you will. If you did, keep reading to see why that's happening and how to avoid it in the future.

When a football star misses the clear shot we are all laughing, but when we stop in the middle of the presentation we are not in the mood for laughing anymore. Both events can have similar consequences and both are driven by the same mechanism.

Sian Beilock from the University of Chicago studied such situations and he found why that happens and how can we help ourselves. The main fact here is how our brain works when we are doing our best and how when we choke in critical moments. But first, let us say that choking is not just poor performance, it's also suboptimal performance. In plain English, if you fail completely or if you achieve B instead of A, that's all choking.

Choking happens when the sophisticated programs executed by the brains of extremely trained person go awry. Thinking too much about what you are doing, because you are worried about losing the lead or worrying about failing in general, can lead to "paralysis by analysis."

Simply put, paralysis by analysis occurs when people try to control every aspect of what they are doing in an attempt to ensure success. But, this increased control can backfire, disrupting what was once a fluid, flawless performance.

Beilock found that highly skilled golfers are more likely to hole a simple one meter long shot when they gave them the tools to stop analyzing their shot, to stop thinking. Highly practiced putts run better when they don't try to control every aspect of performance. Even a simple trick of singing a simply melody helps prevent parts of the brain that might interfere with performance from taking over.

Your brain also can sabotage performance in ways other than paralysis by analysis. For instance, situations full of pressure can deplete a part of the brain's processing power known as working memory, which is critical to many everyday activities. Working memory is like a scratch pad, a temporary storage for information relevant to the task at hand, whether that task is doing a math problem or a questions from a business partner.

Talented people often have the good working memory, but when worries creep up, the working memory they normally use to succeed becomes overburdened. The result: people lose brain power necessary to do their job.

Now, how to translate that research in something useful in everyday situations? There are two techniques: relaxation and practising. In his tests, Beilock gave people with no meditation experience 10 minutes of meditation training before they took a tough test. Students with meditation preparation scored 87 versus 82 points of those without that short and simple meditation training.

Now - practice. Stress can undermine performance in the world of business, but practice is here to help us. Practicing under stress, even a mild stress, helps us and make us feel comfortable when we find ourselves standing in the line of fire. The experience of having dealt with stress makes those situations seem like old hat. The goal is to close the gap between practice and performance.

And another simple method: don't think what you must not say. Think what to say, think about positive words, not negative ones. Remind yourself that you have the background to succeed and that you are in control of the situation. That will give you confidence you need to show your best, no matter are you on date or on business presentation.

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