Yesterday I attend this session after work and took some notes. Sian is a great presenter and possesses wealth of information.
Topic: How Mind Works Under Stress
Presenter: Sian Beilock (Author of books Choke, How the body knows the mind)
Venue: Heller Auditorium Francis Parker School.
What happens when we fail to reach our potential? Do we feel like we are choking under the pressure? Why we fail to perform under pressure? Sian’s research is about finding techniques to overcome this choking effect and perform better.
Frontal cortex, front part of brain, is much bigger in humans than any other primates. It defines us as humans. This defines what we are capable of. FC communicates with other parts of the brain. Under stress FC stops this communication and results in weird consequences. During stressful situations, FC goes haywire but it does that in a predictable way. We have to find that pattern; Paralysis by Analysis.
What happens under stress situation is that we second guess our ability and pay detail attention to things that should be on autopilot. We become very conscious of ourselves. We start breaking down the details of our skills. Focusing on the outcome instead will give better results. All we want to do is sail rather than fail.
A Study was done at Cornell University with medical students. They divided the group of medical students of the same age and level into 2 groups. One who is preparing to take their board exams and one not. They measured the brain activities showing how the brain gets ready for board exam compared with other people not having exam. What changes in the brain? Study showed people who were excessively worried about the exam performed bad at critical thinking problems. Study also concludes that stress in one area of life effects other parts of the lives.
Now let us talk about what can we do help our brain perform at its peak.
- People are more likely to get the answers if they walk away from the difficult problem for a while. This is taking a step back and view the problem differently. Mind resets and you get the connection back.
- Sleep is an important for our life. Mind does not stop working even when we are sleeping but it works on its on things. It makes new connections from the information we gathered in our waking hours.
- Talking out your problems to someone who does not know the answer will also help you solve the problem on your own.
- Our emotions also messes with Frontal Cortex’s functions. When we are under pressure, FC does not keep the negative emotions away and gets us. In teens, FC is under developed, it completes in 20s.
fMRI, Functional MRI (Magnetic resonance Imaging) is one way of testing brain activities. It shows functioning of brain in real time. People who are nervous about Math problems were told they are going to solve a math problem. The part of brain that lights up when we are physically harmed lighted up for these people who were fearing Math problems. To them anticipating Math was as painful as they have been pricked by a needle. This is caused by lack of blood supply to Neurons in the brain. If you tell them ahead about the problem, fear shuts down FC and they don’t perform better.
What can we do about this negativity? Every time negative emotion comes, practice changing it with one thing that you can change. The practice is important. Behavior will change gradually. How we think about ourselves matters very much. If we think we are better at something, chances are we will do better in that in that task. Asian girls did better on Math problems when they thought they are Asian and therefore better at Math than when they thought they are girls and therefore not good at Math.
- Taking walks in nature is beneficial for brain and helps focus our attention. Even looking at pictures of nature will give some of the benefits.
- Practice being in the stressful situation and when actual stressful condition happens you are more ready to cope and perform better in it. Simulating the actual situation will help.
- Your body language send other messages weather you are ready or not. It also gives message to your own brain. So keeping your posture upright also keeps away negative emotions.
- Journaling is best way to get the negativity out. This opportunity to download you thoughts on paper helps you give perspective.