How Not to Choke Under Pressure #3

Mental misfire #3 “The Over Excitement Trap” from Scatterbrain by Henning Beck.

Most of us have felt this over excitement at some stage of our careers – typically when giving a presentation. Here our autonomic nervous system is getting our body ready for the fight, flight or freeze response and pumping a cocktail of chemicals through our body including adrenaline.

But what causes our body to respond in this way? Henning Beck suggest that it’s the thought of either punishment or reward that contributes to this response. The reward might be winning an account or pitch and interestingly the higher the stakes the higher the error rate. Beck goes on to say “one of the most violent forms of punishment is social rejection.”  People are afraid of what others might say.

There are two things we can do here.

First, realise that this excitement or pressure is a good thing – it’s getting us ready to perform. Hans Selye said “it’s not stress that kills us, it is our reaction to it.”  Likewise Susan David says in her book Emotional Agility, “We own our emotions, they don’t own us.” So we need to turn the table on this over excitement and realise we can mange it.

However as Beck notes “too little pressure and we perform just as poorly as when the pressure increases tenfold.” So rather than trying to rid ourselves of the excitement all together just pare it back enough so that we are more focused. 

One way we can pare it back is to practice paced breathing. If you don’t already, practice paced breathing everyday and before your event. Paced breathing is simply gently breath in on a count of 4, hold for 4, breath out for 4 and repeat for 5 or 10 minutes.

The effect of this breathing is it will balance the autonomic nervous system, so we can become more focused and alert and less over excited!

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