Are you afraid of choking under pressure? Try these 4 tips from professional athletes.

As the US Open progresses this week, there are sure to be surprises and unexpected victories. Just in the first round, Rebeka Masarova of Spain, who is ranked 71, had a great result by eliminating No. 8, Maria Sakkari of Greece.

When things don’t go as planned, it can be hard to figure out why. It’s certainly not a lack of effort, said Sakkari who was expected to win after the first-round loss. I do not know. It’s very uncertain, I don’t know what I’m going to do, whether I’m going to take a break or not.

So what happens when a professional athlete puts in thousands of hours of practice, only to underperform or suffocate when it’s time to play?

When we’re under intense pressure to succeed, we often become hyperaware of our performance, which, according to my research, ultimately leads to suffocation, said Sian Beilock, cognitive scientist and author of Suffocation: What the Brain’s Secrets Reveal About How get it. Just when you have to. Whether you’re a professional golfer making a putt you’ve practiced a million times, or putting to a client after hours of training, it’s better to focus on the result than on every detail of what you’re doing. .

You may not be a superstar tennis player watched by millions, but at some point in your career, you will likely face a high-stakes moment that feels like you do or die. Whether it’s a job interview or a presentation to a client, you’ll want to help your brain prepare itself against the possibility of locking up under pressure.

Here is some expert-backed research on how to use the stress of a high-stakes time to your advantage:

1. It may seem counterintuitive, but try to think less about each step and don’t keep practicing until the last moment.

Danielle Collins celebrates day one of the 2023 US Open. "It's going to sound weird, but you have to play like you don't care, Collins said of preparing for the tournament.

Matthew Stockman via Getty Images

Danielle Collins celebrates day one of the 2023 US Open. “It’s going to sound weird, but you have to play like you don’t care,” Collins said of preparing for the tournament.

To be successful on global stages like the US Open, elite athletes know that you have to pay mashed potato close attention to each point can be counterproductive.

As American professional tennis player Danielle Collins told The New York Times about playing the Open: It’s going to sound weird, but you have to play like you don’t care.

My research has found that when high-performing athletes analyze their performance, it prevents them from doing their best, and when the pressure is on, even the most talented athletes can fall into overthinking what they’re doing. to suffocate them, Beilock said. .

The world’s top athletes have put in enough practice and repetition that when they perform, they’re unaware of the step-by-step details of their movements, he said. Instead, they run on autopilot, which frees up attention to focus on strategy, desired outcome, and other aspects of performance.

In one of Beilocks’ studies, she and her fellow researchers found that expert golfers actually performed worse when encouraged to focus on their step-by-step putting performance than when they were placed in conditions designed to distract attention from their putting.

You can’t minimize the importance of practice, but it has to be balanced with the ability to let the details go step-by-step into the moment, Beilock said. This applies whether you’re an Olympic athlete or a person giving a presentation at work.

In other words, you absolutely need to practice, but you also need to know when it’s time to cut the noise. To do that, Beilock said, it helps to create calm right before the big moment.

Exercising until the last minute or studying will only create more anxiety and cognitive load, she said. Instead, a consistent pre-performance routine before high-stakes events can help prepare you to perform at your best when it matters most.

2. Be open about your fear of losing if it’s a big concern.

Identifying your biggest concern can help you figure out what your biggest motivation may be.

A tennis player might be really worried about doing well at the US Open because of the money involved, [while] another tennis player might be really worried about all that people watching, said Vikram Chib, an associate professor of biomedical engineering at Johns Hopkins University who studies how incentives motivate performance. Understanding these differences from person to person is really important and might help you understand: How can I design psychological interventions to help overcome these things?

Sometimes, knowing if you have a winning mindset or more fearful of losing can make all the difference. In a 2014 study, Chib and other researchers found that people with high loss aversion choked on playing a difficult video game when told they were going to win a big cash prize. Meanwhile, people with low loss aversion collapsed under the pressure of large potential cash losses.

In other words, if you’re very loss-averse, Chib said, you’ll actually do better when tasks are structured like you’re playing a game. avoid losing. Conversely, if you are less afraid of losing, you will do better when you play win.

So if you know you’re scared of losing, tell yourself you’re playing to keep from losing. This sort of restructuring eliminates early concern about leaks, Chib said. And they actually tend to do better when presented with a task, which seems really counterintuitive.

3. Take a long-term view so that an obstacle doesn’t disorient you.

As tennis star Frances Tiafoe says: "Sometimes you have to take two steps back to move forward.

TIMOTHY A. CLARY via Getty Images

As tennis star Frances Tiafoe says: “Sometimes you have to take two steps back to move forward.

How you think about the past can help you visualize the future. When you reconsider past losses as mere setbacks in the grand scheme of your career, it won’t send you into a tailspin if you don’t get that job or get that promotion.

Take it from US tennis star Frances Tiafoe, who spoke about how she reset herself after her depressing straight loss at Wimbledon earlier this year.

Having not played my best tennis that day at the end of round three, I was really upset, Tiafoe told Good Morning America last week. But that’s the name of the game. It’s part of it. Sometimes you have to take two steps back to move forward.

To reframe your setbacks in a positive light, let go of what you can’t control so you can move forward. Amanda Hennessey, founder of Boston Public Speaking, is a former actress who taught people the art of public speaking. She said a mistake happens when people try to check each outcome by thinking like, If I try this 1,000 times in front of the mirror, in front of my partner, best friend and dog, I’ll be fine. And then I will definitely get the job.

When we put so much weight on experience and think we need to get this job! or This presentation must be perfect, it becomes difficult to breathe and think clearly, said Hennessey. If you say these phrases to yourself right now, notice how your body feels. Do you feel like you can breathe? Or adapt to the moment? Do you feel comfortable?

His recommendation? Don’t think so much about memorizing exactly what you have to say. Instead, think about creating a powerful experience for the interviewer or audience.

Focusing on us seems to make sense for everyone to look at us. Obviously it concerns us! Hennessey said. What if instead we focused on sharing our point of view and our research, instead of challenging ourselves? Prove your point, but let go of the need to prove your worth.

4. Tell yourself that the doubt and stress you feel are actually excitement.

You can tell yourself the pressure is too much to handle, or you can train your brain to perceive stress as excitement and hear those boos as applause.

Take it from Novak Djokovic, who talked about how he handled a crowd cheering on his opponent Roger Federer in 2019.

Sometimes you just try to ignore it, which is pretty hard. I like to transmute it in a way. So when the crowd sings Roger, I hear Novak, Djokovic told the press after successfully defending his Wimbledon men’s singles title against Federer. He seems silly, but that’s the way it is. I try to convince myself that this is the case.

You may not hear the roar of the crowd, but you may hear inner voices of doubt before a big professional moment like a presentation to a high-stakes client.

To prepare for the unexpected, practice saying Oh good! oh great! whenever you are faced with an obstacle, Hennessey said. This will help you get used to taking on the challenge instead of shrinking or freezing. So when it’s your big moment and you’re faced with something you didn’t expect, you’ll think much more clearly and solve problems with more confidence, instead of being completely baffled.

And stay flexible for the unexpected. If you’re stressed about a job interview, for example, practice answering interview questions in a variety of ways so you don’t get stuck in just one way of answering, advises Hennessey. For presentations, always remember that this experience is to help your audience. It’s not about you.

Pressure is a privilege, says tennis legend Billie Jean King.

Sarah Stier via Getty Images

Pressure is a privilege, says tennis legend Billie Jean King.

And if you can’t help but think of the great stakes of what you’re doing, accept the challenge of the moment and remember that it’s a sign of how far you’ve come. As tennis icon Billie Jean King says: Pressure is a privilege.

If you have tremendous pressure, it’s because opportunity comes along, King told The Washington Post Magazine in 2019. I remember thinking about it, actually, when I was on Center Court at Wimbledon. And I said: okay. You dreamed of this moment. Is there a lot of pressure? Yes. But guess what? It’s a privilege to be here.

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