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Choking under pressure? Try this!

Marion Grobb Finkelstein - Wednesday, July 24, 2013
Ever feel pressured in your communication? Stressed to the nines when you're called upon to perform what some would consider an automatic, skilled communication task?…

Take heart. There's a recent study that might shed some light and help.

Let me begin by saying that this study was not done to research communication. Rather, it was performed by a team of German sports psychologists to examine sports performance. What they found was fascinating -- they believe that a simple fist-squeezing procedure helps athletes avoid choking under pressure. I'm thinking that there's an application in your communications, too. 

Jugen Beckmann and his colleagues tested their theory across three studies (Beckmann, J., Gröpel, P., and Ehrlenspiel, F. 2013. Preventing Motor Skill Failure Through Hemisphere-Specific Priming: Cases From Choking Under Pressure. Journal of Experimental Psychology).

These researchers suggest that activating the right hemisphere of your brain results in better performance, even under pressure. Conversely, they say that activating the left hemisphere is linked with conscious deliberation ... or "choking under pressure". When you deliberate or hesitate, it can sometimes appear as lack of confidence, as weakness, and someone else can grab the proverbial ball from you and run with you, leaving you in their dust. Whether literally, or figuratively, you don't want this, right?

The first study of this research was with 30 semi-professional football players, the second with 20 Taekwondo practitioners and the third with badminton players. The researchers found that when these participants squeezed their right hands into fists, they tended to choke under pressure. In sharp contrast, when they squeezed their left hands into fists, they outperformed. Their conclusion?

Squeeze your left fist to improve your physical performance.

Next time when you're delivering a presentation that requires quick and nimble reaction, improving your decisive physical performance may help. Perhaps you're in a meeting and require the ability to respond quickly, and that's when this heightened physical performance could help you react with lightning speed. Ir might be worth a try.

Conversely, another application of this research could be when you DON'T want to react physically, when you WANT some deliberation before jumping into reptilian physical response. Imagine being in a meeting, feeling the pressure of wanting to lash out at someone verbally or otherwise -- and finding a way to control that impulse. This study suggests that decreasing your physical response, your decisive reaction is done simply by this:

Squeeze your right hand into a fist to DECREASE your physical responsiveness.

Now, it's worth noting that the research isn't conclusive and there are some methodology questions that some would argue put the observations under fire (such as participants having an idea of what the hypothesis was before the tests versus doing the more preferred "double blind" testing method). However, it's still an interesting study that might have application in YOUR world.

What's the harm of trying it?

Next time you're faced with a communication challenge, when you need a shot of confidence to muster up your best physical presence and movements, try making a fist with your left hand. Or when you want to control and quell your physical knee-jerk reaction to lash out, make a fist with your right hand. It might not do anything. Then again, research suggests, it just might. When coupled with visualizing a successful outcome, deep breathing to relax and cue words to trigger a positive mindset, fist clenching could be a powerful part of your pre-performance routine.

Maybe fist pumps make sense after all. Guess those sports people know more about communication than one would have guessed. Fist pump to that.

Until next time, here's to ...

Better communication, better business, better life,
Marion Grobb Finkelstein
Keynote Speaker / Corporate Trainer / Author

Recipient of APEX "Award for Leadership in Service Innovation"

© 2013 Marion Grobb Finkelstein\

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Communication catalyst, author, professional speaker Marion Grobb Finkelstein teaches individuals and organizations across Canada and beyond, how to connect with clients, colleagues, employees and bosses, and how to handle workplace communication challenges to improve morale, confidence and productivity. Chat with her and sign up for her FREE weekly"Marion's Communication Tips" at
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