Squeeze wrist to enhance performance under pressure

By Shayna Brouker • Published: December 5th, 2012
Category: Health in a Heartbeat

Whether you’re a world-class N-B-A star making a free throw with 10 seconds left and the game on the line or an amateur volleyball player serving for match point in your rec league, you’ve been there — nerves get the best of you and you miss the shot or serve into the net. But one simple trick could ease your anxiety and better your chances of not choking and making it: Make a fist with your left hand.

A new study published in the Journal of Experimental Psychology: General found that right-handed athletes who squeezed a ball with their left hand or clasped their left fist before a high-pressure competition were less likely to mess up. The concept of caving under pressure seems to be caused by dominant activation on the left hemisphere of the brain. Since the left side of the body is controlled by the right side of the brain, activating the right side can distract the left side from causing a lapse in concentration.

But, according to researchers, the root of the choking phenomenon seems to be overthinking. Even though a professional has performed the action hundreds of times, doubt creeps in and disrupts determination. The phenomenon can affect not only sports stars, but musicians and test-takers too. The scientists think the results could help elderly people keep their balance when they’re afraid of falling, or keep surgeons in the zone when performing a difficult procedure.

Indeed, what really helps is relaxing and getting in the zone. Remind yourself that you’ve done the task hundreds of times before or have studied so well you know the subject cold. Visualize your success to boost confidence and get in the zone. The old saying rings true in this case: “Whether you think you can or you think you can’t, you’re right.”