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In this week’s episode, I want to talk about how not to choke.  My research was primarily around different sports, but these tips can be applied to say, a meeting you’re preparing for, test-taking, or any situation that challenges you.

We’ve all been there- racing heart, sweaty hands, maybe feelings of self-doubt, increased respiratory rate… and even maybe feeling like flight or fight is imminent.   Self-talk, the awareness around our perceptions, and mindfulness are woven into the main narrative of this podcast. The stories we tell ourselves and the words that we use affect our perception. Self-talk is an internal stimulus and drives our confidence in everything that we do. It especially affects the outcome of how we perform and even how much fun we have in challenging situations or conditions where we need to optimally perform.  Our inner experience affects the quality of our outer experience.

I’ve spent years practicing my self-talk and mindset in many situations- starting line for huge stage races and World Championships, the moment before stepping onto that red circular carpet for a TED Talk, swallowing the lump in my throat before pitching myself and my worth to a new sponsor, having difficult conversations with family members- I’ve been there. I’ve spent years researching how to be better. And I want to help.

What to do:

Here are some techniques I like to keep your eye on crushing it instead of letting that constricted, nervous feeling take over.  Use this in sports, business, relationships- anywhere you are being challenged.

  • Develop contextual awareness around your negative self-talk. When are you doing it, what circumstances cause it?
  • Practice reworking your thoughts and rewiring your brain.  Replace negative thoughts with productive ones.  Even journaling daily will help.
  • Focus on execution, not outcome.  Don’t think about winning the game or the race, think about what you’ll do to perform your best. Don’t think of the test result, think of the work you put in to know your stuff.  Don’t think about getting the promotion, think about communicating everything you’ve done well.  You catch my drift
  • Positive Visualization:  For days or weeks leading up to your event, imagine what not only what success looks like, but try to imagine how it’ll feel when you are doing everything perfectly for your execution.  You can even use negative visualization- how will you deal with potential hiccups? If this gives you anxiety, don’t spend too much time on the negative parts.
  • View stress as a positive, especially with stereotypical “nerve-wracking situations.”  Instead of saying “I’m so nervous” or “I’m stressed”, tell yourself that you’re excited and you’re amped.  Kelly McGonigal PhD has written a whole book on research surrounding how and why this works, and techniques you can use called The Upside of Stress.
  • Pick a mantra.  Mantras can be really powerful.  Pick on that makes you feel good. Mantra: I got this.  I’m unstoppable. I’m confident. I’m ready.
  • Relax: breath, routine


Reggie Miller’s tips on choking and performing under pressure.

First let me say, there is no such thing as “choking”, we all have at some point come up short at the biggest moments in our athletic endeavor.. But here’s how I approach pressure moments..

1. Act like you’ve been there. There’s a reason why you got up 3 hours earlier to get to the gym or football field or on a trail. Practice makes good, not perfect.. The more time you spend doing what you love, the less pressure it will feel like..

2. Visually see yourself hitting the game winner, the old 3 2 1 buzzer sound, I replayed those moments a million times in the family backyard games.. Remember all the hard work that you have put into your body, let that be the guiding force..

3. And remember there’s always tomorrow.. If it doesn’t work out, know you will have other chances, continue to believe in yourself and your workouts…

How to Rebuild Your Confidence after Crashing, Choking, or Failing

What if you’ve had a situation where you choked or crashed and your confidence is shot?  You’ll have to start over with the steps outlined above and build back up to it.  Write down every similar situation in where you had a positive outcome. You might find that the one or two times you choked was an outlier. Try to remember that.  Start with small challenges or things that you’ve done before that come easily to build your confidence back up. An example would be riding easier technical trails and slowly build back up to where you crashed in the first place.  When you find yourself back in the situation where you choked in the first place, think of all the times you excelled, not the one time you failed. Our brain nitpicks that one negative experience- think about it. A negative comment can outweigh hundreds of positive ones…but is it true? No!

Harness the Flow

The ultimate goal is to get into a flow state with all these techniques. Many of us have experienced it.  When you are in a flow state, there is truly nothing negative on your mind and your confidence is high.

In a paper about flow, it is stated “In reality, athletes do not lose their physical ability, technical skills, and strategic knowledge during a competition. Rather, they lose control of cognitive factors such as the ability to concentrate, to focus on relevant cues, to engage in positive self-talk, and so forth. The potential causes for athletes losing control could be negative internal thoughts such as fear of losing, low confidence regarding self-competence, thinking of failure experiences, feeling shame of losing, etc”

Remember: “Optimal experience, where we feel a sense of exhilaration, a deep sense of enjoyment that is long cherished, does not come through passive, receptive, relaxing times. The best moments usually occur when a person’s body or mind is stretched to its limits in a voluntary effort to accomplish something difficult and worthwhile.”

And we get to work on our headspace to thrive when we take on challenges, sign up for new things, and seek growth.


J Wang, D Callahan, B Goldfine. Choking Under Pressure in Competition and Psychological Intervention Approaches . Strength & Conditioning. 2003; 25(5): 69-75.

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