Don Vandergriff VI: How to Avoid ChokingYesterday's post referenced Don Vandergriff's workshop, "Deciding Under Pressure and Fast." Today I'd like to call attention to an overview of research on performing under pressure that lends support to Vandergriff's insistence on the necessity that people get ample practice in making decisions under time pressure.
The article in question is "Avoiding the Big Choke," by Elizabeth Svoboda, in the February/March 2009 issue of Scientific American Mind. Choking is defined as "performance decrements under pressure circumstances."1
Though much of Svoboda's article is devoted to activities like playing golf and public speaking, not to Vandergriff's main focus on training people who need to plan and execute military and law enforcement actions, there is a key point in Svoboda's report that is clearly applicable to any job requiring an ability to think on one's feet: "The best way to make a performance situation feel like rehearsal ... is to subject yourself to the same anxiety-packed conditions during practice that you expect to encounter" in the actual situation for which you are preparing.
Svoboda cites Raôul R.D. Oudejans, a professor in the Faculty of Human Movement Sciences of VU University Amsterdam. Oudejans conducted a study with Dutch police, the results of which "indicate that turning up the heat from the very first day of practice may be one of the most effective ways to immunize yourself against blowing it."
Art Markman, a psychology professor at the University of Texas at Austin, weighs in with the complementary idea that "[t]he more exposure you get to these high-pressure situations, and the more you succeed [despite them], he less likely you're going to get that whole affective experience" of feeling distractingly nervous about your performance.
Svoboda summarizes: "the more comfortable you feel, the less likely you are to be affected by pressure." To become as comfortable as possible, you should devise "a high-tension practice regimen appropriate to your particular performance situation."
In concluding, Svoboda cites Harry Wallace, a psychology professor at Trinity University in San Antonio. She says:
The most effective strategies ... are the ones that imbue performers with the assurance that they can deal with any eventuality. This mind-set proves helpful even (and perhaps especially) when something goes wrong. According to Prof. Wallace, "Part of the key is not being overconfident in advance and recognizing that you may feel more anxiety than you expect. You want to address any concerns far in advance of performance. You don't want to have any second thoughts about your likelihood of success."The affinity of this admonition with the philosophy underlying "Deciding Under Pressure and Fast" is apparent.
1 Svoboda adopts the definition used by Roy Baumeister, a professor of social psychology at Florida State University.