How To Be ‘Clutch’

You’re sitting in the waiting area of an office. Today is your job interview. You are excited; you’ve been looking for a long time, and because of your exhaustive networking, you found an “in” at this company.

You are qualified for this job. You know that if they give you a shot you will excel at it.

In spite of your confidence (up until today), you now find yourself breathing shallowly. Your palms are a little sweaty. You are fidgeting in your chair. You are telling yourself, “Relax, breathe…”

You are self-talking now, trying to convince yourself you won’t blow this golden opportunity.

The Super Bowl is the biggest stage in American sport. After a grueling regular season and playoffs, the Giants and Patriots played for all the marbles Sunday.

During the game, I marveled at Tom Brady’s and Eli Manning’s prefrontal cortexes. I couldn’t actually see them, but I knew what they were doing.

The prefrontal cortex is the part of your brain considered to be where one’s thoughts and actions meet one’s internal goals.

Here’s where it is:

The reason Tom Brady, Eli Manning, Steve Jobs, Amelia Earhart and countless other human success stories got to where they are is their ability to be ‘clutch’. They rarely choke. They perform at a high level in spite of withering pressure. On the biggest stages, with all eyes on them, they relish the chance to reach their goal.

To look at the faces of Tom Brady and Eli Manning in-game is to see a stoic, almost expressionless demeanor. No matter the situation, these two men have the ability to focus, to see the goal in their mind, and do what they need to do to achieve it.

Here’s a piece of really good news, for the rest of us; Your prefrontal cortex can be exercised, like a muscle. You can train yourself to decrease your anxiety!

There was a pivotal pass play in the fourth quarter of the Super Bowl- Eli Manning to Mario Manningham. One doesn’t need to know the play, or when it happened, or how it was executed- that’s not the point. The one reason this particular play was successful?  They have practiced that pass together literally thousands of times. It wasn’t the first time Eli has thrown to Mario; they have repeated this action over and over again. In the Super Bowl, the decision was made to execute that play. Manning knew Manningham would be where he was supposed to be. Manningham knew the ball would be thrown to him in a location where he would be able to catch it.

We have ample evidence to prove kids who have taken sample SAT tests perform better than ones who come in “cold”.

Think about a presentation you have made at work. Perhaps it is some kind of orientation for new clients or vendors. You have made this presentation many times; you have tweaked it along the way, improving it, freshening it.

When you give that presentation, you deliver it with calm and confidence, because you have been here before; you know what to do if the projector fails. You know how to react if the slides are out of order, for some reason.

This is the essense of how to avoid the choke- do it a few times in practice mode before you do it for real.

If you have not scheduled a practice interview with a disinterested third party to brutally poke holes in your pitch, you have failed to prepare for the real thing.

Go into an interview cold, and you greatly increase your chance for a fumble.

I learned a lesson about choking early in life. The true story is here. 

I found a way to understand goals and expectations after recently recalling that story.

The other day, I walked onto my local high school’s football field. I was alone.

I teed a ball up, and kicked it through the goalposts, on the first try.

I then stood there for a moment, feeling as if a weight had been lifted. I knew exactly what I wanted to do, knew what it was going to feel like, and conquered it, many years later. It was pretty amazing!

The oldest of old adages remain relevant today; practice doesn’t always make perfect, but it increases your odds- and in the game of life, you want the odds to favor you as often as possible.

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