Have you been faced with a stressful situation where it is crucial how you perform, only to choke just when you need to be at your best? We all have! An article, by Scientific American journal, studied this experience and found some interesting insights.
The researchers found that negatively stereotyped social groups are some are at the greatest risk of choking under pressure. For example, if women are told that they are not as good as men at math, right before a math test, then they tend to do poorer on that test then if they were not told this statement.
One reason for the may be that the women are having to fight off the negative thoughts as they are trying to also person a complex task like solve math problems. This is what the researchers called “Increased Cognitive Load”. Others studies suggest that a negative stereotype increases feelings of anxiety and stress which affect performance.
As an artist, I feel the pressure of creating a painting when someone asks me to do one or wants to commission a specific image or scene. I can do great art, when I follow my muse and don’t worry about the outcome. That is because I am not worrying about whether someone will like it or question myself about my artistic abilities.
There is also the element of our identity. How we “see” ourselves or thing that others see us can affect our performances. Another researcher studied how positive stereotypes affect complex activities and found that this actually boosts ability to perform. Why don’t positive intrusive thoughts cause people to choke like negative ones? Because positive thoughts don’t focus on our feelings of worth as a member of a particular social group. As an artist, positive thoughts about my artistic skills increase my worth in this group of people.
Is the answer than to just pump ourselves up before a difficult task or pay others to tell us nice things about we are? Probaly not! As a psychotherapist, I tell my clients to explore their audiences of appreciation. Who values them? Who will be able to notice their efforts to change and will accept them unconditionally? A lot of emotional sufferers just don’t have enough awareness of their audiences of appreciation. Maybe my role as a psychotherapist is to be one of those audience members.
So instead of finding people to be “accountable to” in your efforts to set up a new New Years Resolution, try gathering together an audience of appreciation. Now wouldn’t that feel nice for a change? S
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