The ability to remain calm and collected during high-pressure situations is certainly not a trait that comes naturally to most of us, but it’s a skill that can be learned, thanks to neuroscience.
Why do we freeze up and not perform at our best?
First, let’s outline the biochemistry involved. When we feel attacked, or threatened, we dive into the “fight-or-flight” state, a physiological reaction. Essentially, it’s the opposite of staying calm. Your brain secretes hormones, including cortisol and adrenaline, that instruct your nervous system to prepare your body for drastic measures — breath shortens, blood flows the muscles, and peripheral vision disappears.
High-pressure business, athletic competitions or social situations don’t really constitute “threats” to our survival, so why do we freeze up? What happens is your anxious, jittery brain tells your body to redirect all energy to your muscles, but you never physically fight or flee the scene. So, the energy isn’t spent, but it’s being borrowed from neurological functions (such as focusing on details) that could really use the energy. You end up in a stressful cycle between your brain and body, and in less scientific terms, you lose it.
Once you’re in this “freak out” zone, chances are very high that you’ll freeze up like a deer in headlights or end up in a pernicious loop of self-loathing.
How can we remain calm and perform at a high level?
The key to remaining calm is to interrupt that stressful cycle between your brain and body. The fight-or-flight reaction begins in the amygdalae, the area of the brain that process memory, interprets emotion, and often makes those impulsive gut decisions.
Interestingly, just labeling emotions has the power to help you overcome them: fear, anxiety, paranoia, embarrassment, and so on. As an expert in neuroscience leadership training, I suggest reflecting on your feelings and PROPERLY labeling them. This aids in calming the amygdala, allowing you to move out of the fight/flight mode and free up energy allowing you to think more clearly about the issue at hand, rather than worrying. This in itself interrupts the brain-body stress cycle.
The next step is one I’m sure you have heard before, but I can’t stress this enough. Learn how to perform proper breathing. Count from 1 to 10 each time you inhale and each time you exhale. Deep breaths bring more oxygen into your lungs and bloodstream, cueing your body that it’s no longer necessary to generate the intensity of a fight-or-flight reaction.
After labeling your emotions and coaxing yourself through some deep breaths, the final step in eliminating the overwhelming fight-or-flight response emotions is to relabel them. Try viewing them in a more positive light than negative.
- fear → anticipation
- worry → concern
- flustered → excited
- frustration → desire
This positive relabeling allows you to regain control over your body, lowering your heartbeat and returning to calmness. I teach you this technique and we consistently practice it together until it takes hold, generates new neuronal connections and becomes your default setting. The technique takes precise know how and diligent practice, but once you’ve shifted your way of thinking to a more positive state, it will become easier and easier. In the end, it’s well worth it to avoid those cringe worthy cracks under pressure.
What is the most effective type of performance coaching?
Utilizing the latest findings in Cognitive and Behavioral Neuroscience, MindLAB Life Coaching has developed a state-of-the-art program that serves as an alternative to traditional performance coaching programs that are antiquated and DO NOT WORK.
This non-invasive treatment involves using your brain’s natural ability to change, neuroplasticity, its own neural connectivity, and its inherent ability to generate new, much healthier connections.
At MindLAB Life Coaching we use the latest and most innovative techniques to teach you how to regulate your brain to “normal” patterns all on your own. It’s almost like a workout for your brain by training your brain to be stronger and healthier.