Have you ever choked under pressure? Like maybe you forgot your boss’ name when you stood up to introduce him or her? Or you missed the game-winning free-throw, even though you never miss that shot? You may have been simply been over-thinking things.
Neuroscientist Dr. Taraz Lee says we have muscle memory, which is why we don’t have to consciously think in order to walk, breathe or drive a car. Our bodies just know how to do it. But if the decision-making part of our brains take over the automatic part of our brain at just the wrong moment, it can make it impossible to do something we’ve mastered and done repeatedly without a hitch. And it’s something we see in professional sports all the time, like when Tiger Woods drives the ball 300 feet to within a-foot of the cup, and then he can’t sink the putt.
Psychologist Dr. Sian Beilock calls it “paralysis by analysis.” And she says it follows one of two patterns. Either we worry so much about failing that it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. In other words, we think we’re going to fail, so we do. Or we concentrate exclusively on the step-by-step mechanics of what we’re doing instead of trusting our body to do what it already knows how to do. And our brain ends up overriding our well-trained muscles, which leads to a mistake.
So what's a body to do? Dr. Beilock says the best remedy is to find a way to distract yourself. In other words, instead of over-thinking that free throw, hum a little tune. It might distract your brain long enough to allow your muscles to take over and turn a potential disaster into triumph.