In the field of sport, failure to manage anxiety and being fully capable when it comes to dealing with demands at a crucial moment can lead to a catastrophic drop in performance, known as choking. As the pressure in a match or game rises so can the sports person’s anxiety.
Anxiety is a reaction to stress or pressure. It tends to arise during performances that trigger the fear of losing or fear of damage to your standing or reputation. The symptoms of anxiety are mostly psychological, worry, fear and include sweaty palms and an increased heart rate. Anxiety soaks up attention and working memory that hinders performance.
Now as a businessperson I am sure you can recognise that overly focusing your thinking about process that you know well and comes automatically can majorly affect how you perform.
So, in leadership positions where someone is expected to perform at a high standard whether in sport or business if you overthink and focus your attention on the technical execution of a particular skill it can lead to “paralysis by analysis”.
The very best in sport and business manage to channel their anxiety positively, especially if individuals have high levels of self-confidence. Those who suffer from low confidence view anxiety as detrimental to performance whereas those with high levels of confidence tend to perceive anxiety as a sign of being fully ready for the challenges ahead. This make them much less likely to choke under pressure.
Those weighed down by anxiety also use their eyes less efficiently and when table tennis players are anxious, they spend much longer fixating on the ball and less time on their opponent. Other anxiety induced responses can include hypervigilance which can be summed up as “a deer caught in the headlight” phenomenon.
When a sport or businessperson narrows the field of view down to something comparable to tunnel vision will certainly result in missing critical information. In such a situation if you then add in spur-of-the-moment rushed actions the situation takes a turn for the worst.
Once on this path it can result in a “stereotype threat” with a negative image of an individual or team taking on a life of its own and unwanted outcomes and behaviours that are more likely to be repeated.
In a classic 1999 study scientists asked men and women to take an arithmetic test. Some in the test were told that men and women performed equally well on the test while others were told that men performed better.
When the scientists told the women that women performed just as well as the men they performed equally with the men on the tests. Conversely, when the women were told that women performed worse than men, they did perform less well than the men.
So, clutch state occurs when an individual or team are put under pressure and they can summon up whatever is necessary to succeed, to perform well and change the outcome of a game or situation.
Being able to create a flow state where harmony is dominant and introduces an intense focus that excludes irrelevant emotions and thoughts results in everything coming together and clicking into place. Those with high mental toughness are much more likely to experience flow and clutch states than those less mentally tough.
I guess in 2020 we can identify many around us who have failed to rise to be someone very special during this Covid-19 pandemic.
Gordon is the former president and chief executive of BMMI. He can be reached at [email protected]