Tips on how not to let nerves get the better of you

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Remember the time you had to give an important presentation and you were so worried about performing well that you simply froze despite hours of rehearsal the night before? Maybe it was the time you had to take a critical test and you were so stressed out that your mind simply went blank the moment your pen/pencil touched the paper?

Crumbling under pressure afflicts a lot of people, including those who are very talented. Though some people might attribute such embarrassing failures to lack of preparation, associate professor of psychology at the University of Chicago, Sian Beilock, argues to the contrary.

Even the most prepared presenter or test taker can still fall victim to what professor Beilock terms, "paralysis by analysis," which happens when a person thinks too much about what (s)he is doing. In an article by the University of Chicago, Beilock explains that thinking too much about specific parts of a task because of the fear of failing can throw off even the most well-practiced techniques.

To prevent your brain from being "paralyzed," a simple trick of singing, humming or whistling can prevent portions of the brain that might interfere with performance from taking over, Beilock's research explains.

Beilock also discovers that worrying depletes the working memory necessary for success. When people are anxious or stressed about a particular task, they often lose brainpower necessary for success. This means that even the brightest students can "choke" if anxiety steers their mental energy away from the part of their brain that processes information. Consequently, a stressed student can tap out her or his mental resources and forget crucial details needed to perform a task or answer a question.

Fortunately for students (or anyone) prone to "choking" under pressure, there is a simple solution out of that state of mind. A new study, also by the University of Chicago, found that students who were prone to test anxiety improved their high-stakes test scores by nearly one grade point after they were given 10 minutes to write about what was causing them fear. According to the study, the writing exercise allowed students to unload their anxieties and worries before taking the test and thus freed up brainpower that is normally occupied by worries about the test. This in turn allowed students to successfully complete the test.

Beilock's research is applicable to all kinds of performance anxiety such as giving an important presentation, interviewing for an important job, public speaking or any activity where the stakes are high.

In addition to the above tips, Beilock lists her best 5 strategies on how to remain calm under pressure, which can also be found in this article by TIME magazine.

Write. Pause. Practice. Do not over think. Distract. I will definitely use these strategies in future!

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This page contains a single entry by Michelle C published on January 30, 2011 10:50 PM.

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