How to Never Choke Again

Last Updated May 18, 2011 7:50 AM EDT

Three things happen immediately after you mentally freeze, choke, and wreck a motorcycle:
  1. You take a quick inventory and make sure all body parts are intact,
  2. You surreptitiously glance around to see if anyone was watching, and
  3. You start thinking of excuses you'll give for why you wrecked.
Well-worn excuse chestnuts include:
  • "A car cut me off."
  • "I swerved to avoid a (cat/dog/deer/cow, depending on the locality) in the road."
  • And the ever popular, "I hit a patch of gravel."
The first time I wrecked a motorcycle, none of the above applied. What happened? Simple: I had only been riding for a couple months and I choked. I freaked out. I froze. I -- shoot, pick any embarrassing verb and it applies. I was going way too fast up a twisty mountain road and came on a hairpin turn, mentally froze, hit the brakes but did nothing else, and ran off the road into the side of the mountain. (Yes, pretty stupid, but if you read this post you know I eventually learned to be smarter, if not more clever.)

What happened? I didn't choke because I lacked courage. In those days my bravery needle shot past "Bold" and "Reckless" to peg out at "Could you conceivably be more of an idiot?" I choked because I had not done the one thing that can ensure you never choke again:

Turn the abnormal into the normal and the unusual into usual.
No, I didn't just go all Zen on you. Here's why.

We don't choke because we lack courage. We don't choke because we lack an innate coolness under fire or because we're flawed and made of softer stuff.

We choke when we face an unusual, uncomfortable, confrontational, or scary situation, we don't know what to do, and we freeze:

  • We shrink backwards instead of stepping forward to seize an opportunity.
  • We say the wrong thing in a meeting.
  • We do what we've always done in a confrontation instead of what we know we should do.
  • We run off the road into the side of a mountain and break both wrists. (Okay, maybe that's just me.)
In the midst of choking you experience fear, but fear is just a symptom. The fear you feel doesn't cause you to choke; you choke because you don't know what to do: You haven't turned "Oh no!" into "Okay, been there, done that, here's what I'll do."

Never choking again isn't based on developing greater courage or composure. Never choking again starts from the opposite end: When you know what to do and have done something similar before, courage becomes automatic. Composure is a given. Coolness under fire is natural.

Bravery is like a Band-Aid for choking. Throw out the Band-Aids to cure the real problem.

CLICK to learn how to never choke again

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    Jeff Haden learned much of what he knows about business from managing a 250-employee book manufacturing plant. Everything else he picked up from ghostwriting books for some of the smartest CEOs and leaders in business. He has written more than 30 non-fiction books, including four Business and Investing titles that reached #1 on Amazon's bestseller list. Follow him on Twitter at @Jeff_Haden.