How can you ensure success under stress?

 

Sian Beilock lays out some great research-based tips in Choke: What the Secrets of the Brain Reveal About Getting It Right When You Have To:

Reaffirm your self-worth. Before a big test or presentation spend a couple of minutes writing about your many interests and activities. This writing can promote feelings of self-worth. Reaffirming yourself, especially when you question your abilities, can boost your confidence and performance.

Map out your complexities. Before taking an important test, spend five minutes drawing a diagram of everything that makes you a multifaceted individual. This exercise can help to highlight that this one test score doesn’t define you, which can in turn take some of the pressure off. Write about your worries. Writing for ten minutes about your worries regarding a presentation or test you are about to take can thwart the anxieties and self-doubt that often emerge in high-pressure situations.

Meditate away the worries. You can train your brain not to dwell on negative thoughts and instead recognize and then discard them…

Think differently. Think about yourself in ways that highlight your propensity for success. Instead of thinking, for example, that you belong to a sex or racial group that is unfairly stereotyped to be bad at math, remind yourself instead that you have the tools to excel— maybe you are a college student at a prestigious university or you have done well in school in the past. Focus on your credentials to help turn a bad performance into a good one.

Reinterpret your reactions. If you get sweaty palms and your heart races under pressure, remember that these physiological reactions also occur under more pleasant circumstances, such as when you have met the love of your life. When under pressure, if you can learn to interpret your bodily reactions in a positive way (“ I am amped up for the test”) rather than negative (“ I am freaking out”), you may be able to turn your body to your advantage.

Pause your choke. Walking away for a few minutes from a challenging problem that demands working-memory can help you find the most appropriate solution. This “incubation” period helps you to let go of your focus on irrelevant problem details and instead think in a new way or from an alternative perspective— and can produce an “aha” moment that can ultimately lead to a breakthrough and success.

Educate the worries. Merely drawing attention to the stereotypes students may hold— for instance, “Girls can’t do math” or “Whites are not as good at math as Asians”— and reminding them that they are stereotypes and nothing more can help to prevent people from worrying about their ability when the pressure is on. It might seem counterintuitive that teaching people about a stereotype regarding their ability would quell its effects rather than exacerbate them, but giving people an excuse for their worries allows them to see their performance as less diagnostic of their intellect.

The Obama effect. Seeing examples of people who defy common stereotypes about sex, race, and ability can help to boost the performance of people in these social groups…

Practice under pressure. The old adage that practice makes perfect can do with a bit of adjustment. Studying under the same conditions you will be tested under— for instance, in a timed situation with no study aids— helps you get used to what you will experience on test day. There is also research suggesting that testing yourself on material (rather than simply studying it) helps you remember it better in the long term…

Outsource your cognitive load. Write down the intermediate steps of a problem rather than trying to hold everything in your head. This provides you with an external memory source, one that may be relatively free of worries compared to your own prefrontal cortex. As a result, you may be less likely to mix up information or forget important details of what you are doing.

Organize what you know. …Coming up with meaningful ways to organize the information you need to remember for a big test or presentation can help take the burden off your working-memory and actually help you remember more.

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About Eric Barker