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How to Keep Your Cool Under Pressure

When it comes to your performance, you’re your own biggest enemy. We’ve got a cheap, easy, and effective way to silence all of your doubts.

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You know your favorite player has sunk that shot thousands of times before, but for some reason tonight it’s brick after brick. What gives?

According to a study published in The Journal of Experimental Psychology: General, it’s not because their opponent has gotten in their head—it’s because they can’t get out of their own heads.

Why Do People Choke Under Pressure? >>

In the study, researchers had semi-professional soccer players perform six penalty shots in practice. The next day, they had those same players perform the penalty shots again, this time in front of a crowd of 300 people. Some of the players squeezed a medicine ball in their left hand before taking the shots. The result? Those players who squeezed the ball performed the same as they had in practice. Those who didn’t missed more shots than they had previously.

Here’s the science: The right side of your brain is linked to automated functions (like kicking a soccer ball) while the left side is responsible for rumination and anxiety. By squeezing the balls in their left hands, the players activated the right side of their brains, diminishing the possibility of anxiety interfering with their actions.

“You’re basically reminding yourself that you have skill—left hand, right brain,” says Dr. Kate Hays, Ph.D. “That’s the brain path.”

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That reminder keeps you from getting overly focused, which only creates anxiety. While the medicine ball squeeze works best with activities that are deeply ingrained, the premise has other applications. “The same general principles apply to things that affect [most guys],” Hays says—including a big date, presentation or any other high-pressure situation. “If you’re asking your boss for a raise, before the meeting when you’re feeling most tense have some method of separating out all those worries. The answer might be squeezing a medicine ball in your left hand.”

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MF Pick: Perfect Solutions Elastic Stress Relief Ball. $4, amazon.com
 
Build grip strength with this routine.
 
1. Reps: Squeeze the ball in each hand 15 times. Rest 30 seconds, then repeat. Complete three sets.
2. Hold: Squeeze the ball in each hand for 15 seconds, alternating for three holds per hand.
3. Pinch: Pinch the ball between your thumb and index finger 10 times. Complete three sets, resting as little as possible in between.
 
 
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The Biggest Chokes in Sports History

We remember these guys for their failures, not their successes. Use their flubs as motivation next time you want to bow out of your workout.
 
1) Chris Webber’s Timeout 1993: With 11 seconds remaining and NC leading 73–71, Chris Webber’s timeout call in the ’93 NCAA finals would have been “fab”— if Michigan had any timeouts left.
 
2) Yankees Choke 2012: Alex Rodriguez’ horrible hits cost the Yankees a run and a win in Game 4 of the playoffs. And they were swept by the Tigers.
 
3) Oilers Fall Flat 1992: The Houston Oilers were in the lead in ’92— until John Elway drove the Broncos 80 yards. For a second straight year, they exited early.
 
4) Falco Finishes 1996: While Greg Norman entered the final day of the 1996 Masters with a six-point lead, his rival, Nick Falco, shot a 67 over Norman’s 78, leaving him with the green jacket and the win.
 

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