The Student News Site of University of California - San Diego

The UCSD Guardian




The Student News Site of University of California - San Diego

The UCSD Guardian

The Student News Site of University of California - San Diego

The UCSD Guardian




Pressure Doesn’t Make Diamonds

Kelvin+Noronha%0AThinking+Caps%0Aknoronha%40ucsd.edu
Kelvin Noronha Thinking Caps [email protected]
Kelvin Noronha Thinking Caps knoronha@ucsd.edu
Kelvin Noronha
Thinking Caps
[email protected]

In the five minutes of the Sochi Winter Olympics that NBC.com allowed me to watch for free, my mind was completely boggled. For someone like me, who has difficulty coordinating texting and walking down stairs, the superhuman skill and focus on display was epic. But unfortunately, not everyone makes it on to the medal stand — there are skiing tumbles and biathlon misses as even the world’s best find the pressure difficult to handle. Stress doesn’t only cause butterflies — it actively sabotages us.

We can all relate to≠ those who cave under duress, whether on an exceptionally clutch ball toss or on a final exam. This is why athletic coaches, sportscasters and even parents make a point to emphasize the harm done by lofty expectations and similar mental saboteurs. Overthinking a situation, such as a penalty shot in a soccer game, usually leads to even more stress as we try to micromanage the task at hand, rather than let our bodies do it for us.

A study by University of Chicago psychologist Sian Beilock confirmed this with a test — elite golfers who whistled or hummed tunes right before a three-foot putt ended up with a much higher shot percentage than those who intensely contemplated the shot. The whistlers’ brains essentially diverted some of the mental resources normally used for worrying, which allowed the putters to let their training take over. Similarly, when we stop microanalyzing the mechanics and small-scale decisions behind our actions, we’re much more likely to rely on our “second-nature” skills — those that hours or years of practice reinforce.

For Olympians who are expected to pull off crazy twirls over the ice or zip around a track without falling, the pressure level borders on absurd. Entire nations hold their collective breath as figure skaters try to nail the triple axel and outdo themselves with each attempt. Athletes spend their entire lives training for three minutes of Olympic competition, and with that comes a tremendous mental burden. When someone takes a spill, the emotion is etched on their face. Unfulfilled expectations and concurrent senses of resignation, anguish and plain sadness come with the failure to vindicate athletes’ faith in themselves. This leads some to tell themselves that they’re going to fail, largely in an attempt to avoid disappointment.

However, underrating our own skills can also be dangerous, as Beilock showed in another study. On a standardized math test, girls who had grown up with the notion that boys were better at math (which, from firsthand experience, is a crazy idea) performed poorly; those who hadn’t performed just as well as their male counterparts. Although thinking of oneself as the underdog can occasionally lead to gloriously inspirational David and Goliath moments, the blow to self-confidence usually results in less effort and mediocre results.

It is admittedly rather difficult to find the sweet spot between stratospheric expectations and apathetic resignation. But if your nerves are getting the better of you, it could be useful to just try whistling your favorite jam.

Leave a Comment
Donate to The UCSD Guardian
$15
$500
Contributed
Our Goal

Your donation will support the student journalists at University of California, San Diego. Your contribution will allow us to purchase equipment, keep printing our papers, and cover our annual website hosting costs.

More to Discover
Donate to The UCSD Guardian
$15
$500
Contributed
Our Goal

Comments (0)

All The UCSD Guardian Picks Reader Picks Sort: Newest

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *