TEDTalk Review: Why We Choke Under Pressure – and How to Avoid It

Author: Jane Xia

Lera Boroditsky speaks at TEDWomen 2017 — Bridges, November 1-3, 2017, Orpheum Theatre, New Orleans, Louisiana. Photo: Stacie McChesney / TED

Siah Lean Beilock, the speaker, begins her talk with an anecdote of herself in her soccer team. She details her experience as a high school goalkeeper trying to impress the national coach. She choked up, which leads her into the interest and research of cognitive science and her goal to find psychological tools that can help people perform at their best. The answer as to why we choke under pressure is: “When we try to control every aspect of our performance, we mess with what is best left on autopilot”. If we begin thinking about our knees when we are walking down the stairs, we are very likely to fall down the stairs. Her research team and she discovered the phenomenon of “paralysis by analysis”, which is the result of “over-attention”. She also mentions a few well-known figures in various fields of work who tell their peers to “don’t think, just do it”. In basketball, the term “unconscious” is used to describe a shooter who can’t miss. When we begin to focus on details we did not before, it is when we are most likely to mess up.

A possible solution to choking under pressure is to take our minds off of the minor details. In order to take our minds, our frontal cortex, off of small details, we can focus on small things such as our pinky toes. Practicing under pressure can also help get rid of pressure. Beilock narrates her experience from being last in her chemistry sequence in college to being one of the top students after endless hours of studying and hard work. “It wasn’t just about learning the material; it was about learning how to overcome my limits when it mattered most.”

The speech has clear organization with clear transitions from one point to the next. The anecdotal beginning helps viewers connect with the topic and have a personal reference to it. It also sets the foundation for her research, cognitive science. However, her second anecdote about her chemistry sequence was a little too long and strayed off topic. Towards the end of the talk, I as a listener have forgotten what the main topic is, which is tackling choking under pressure. Beilock also did not have a conclusion that was successful in tying the entire talk together. She ended with a simple sentence that only referred to the last part of the speech instead of mentioning the talk as a whole. I had to actually think back to the beginning of the talk to remember the reason and purpose for this talk. Overall, the speech was well-written, but went off topic towards the end by not relating the last part of the speech to the main idea.