In high-stakes scenarios, we tend to panic—and mess up things we usually do with ease. Here’s why that happens, and how to stop it.
A star athlete misses a penalty shot in overtime. A famous singer bungles the national anthem. A great actor forgets their lines on stage.
We’ve all witnessed someone choke under pressure, and while it may seem like a high-profile phenomenon, it can also happen to us in everyday life—whether we’re trying to nail a job interview, pass an important exam, impress a new date, or give a successful presentation.
So why do we panic under pressure? And what can we do to stop it?
In this video from TED-Ed, educator Pen-Pen Chen explains why pressure causes us to panic, and how we can conquer it.
Choosing Where You Place Your Attention
One of our main enemies when struggling to keep it together under pressure is perhaps the most obvious: distraction.
“Performance suffers when the mind is preoccupied with worries, doubts, or fears, instead of focusing its attention on performing the task at hand,” Chen says.
The reason for this is deceptively simple. When we’re too busy focusing on our panicked thoughts—Did I arrive too early? What if I shouldn’t have said that? Do they like me? How much time do I have?—we can’t concentrate on more important things, like the speech we’ve memorized. We excel when we’re able to choose where we place our attention (or where we don’t place our attention).
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