Playing under pressure – Using your emotions to get more focus

Ever had a lot of “pressure” during a match? Knowing that everyone in your team was watching with their hopes on you? Or maybe playing for slightly more money than you feel comfortable? Did it make you shoot differently than you would ordinarily have? Did it feel different than, say, a casual game with a friend after a few drinks?

Did you start feeling strong emotions, maybe a little jittery, maybe a little excited?

Now the real question – Would you call these strong emotions a bad thing? Do you associate them with choking and wish that you could be rid of them?

I don’t – at least, not any more.

What is the difference between fear and excitement? To me, both are the exact same feeling inside my chest, my breathing changing, my heart beating faster, adrenaline and blood pumping, and a strong sense of anticipation. The only difference between fear and excitement is how we decide to label them – If we decide the situation is bad or unwanted, we call it fear, if not, we call the same feeling excitement. But there is no real difference between the two.

All it really is, is the subconscious mind saying “this is something new that I haven’t prepared for or experienced before. I need to focus more, so I am going to pump some adrenaline and increase the body’s focus so it can do everything that it needs to”.

It is not a bad thing. It is what your subconscious mind believes you need at the moment. Even in extreme situations like car accidents, the subconscious mind gives the body exactly what it needs, an extra surge of focus and strength to get out of the situation safely.

So if this is such a good thing, why is it so distracting? Why do we choke when we have these strong feelings? Why do people freeze up during moments of extreme pressure?

Well. Simply put, instead of using that period of intense focus to complete the task at hand, a lot of us tend to waste it in fighting our selves with thoughts like -“Crap!! I’m feeling scared. Now I am definitely going to choke. I have to push away these feelings and become confident again”.

The fact is whatever feelings your body experiences at any time are exactly what it needs to feel at that moment. Instead of fighting the feelings, the simplest thing to do is accept them, and understand the message they are sending. It is so much more constructive to think “Yes. My body is in adrenaline mode. My subconscious mind knows I want to win and is helping me. I am now going to be able to use my super focus. All I have to do is take my time, and win.”

A friend of mine came up with an interesting concept. He defines a whole new emotion (like happiness and sadness) called resistance. People have this emotion when they believe that something is wrong with their current situation and complain about it instead of accepting the present moment as it is – “I should have won”, “The equipment is crappy”, “That noise is distracting”, “Why do I always have all the bad luck?”

And this emotion of resistance stops us from appreciating and enjoying the current moment and gets us inside our head arguing with reality instead of accepting it. It is this resistance which has us complaining about the bad roll we got on the previous shot or a shot we missed. It is this resistance which tells us “I shouldn’t be feeling scared and tense right now. I need to do something to FIX MYSELF so that I can play my normal game”. It stops us from using the boost that our subconscious is providing us to help us. We start complaining about or resisting the situation when we should be thanking our subconscious for the extra help.

Over the last few weeks I have been winning a very high percentage of my matches, even with very skilled higher handicapped players. One thing common about all of these tough matches was the state my body was going through at the time – Extreme adrenaline and focus. My team mates kept trying to calm me down because they didn’t realize that I was actually playing better because of it. The fact is, ever since I stopped labeling them as bad, I look forward to these moments because of how well I play during them.

People say that the only way to learn to handle pressure is a lot of experience in high pressure situations. The reason this works is because after experiencing it a few times we begin to accept and appreciate the heightened emotions as a natural part of our body and are no longer distracted by them. People who continue to fight their emotions instead of learning to accept them continue to “choke under pressure”. But the few gifted ones who learn to work in-spite of stress, pressure and emotion, reach new levels of success and inspire everyone around them. In times of crisis, these people become the heroes.

Would you like to be in the first group or the second? It is completely your choice.