One of the keys to success is being sure of yourself and trusting your capabilities; yet, even a high level of confidence isn’t always enough to relieve the anxiety that can set in under serious pressure. People are always looking for ways to perform better under stress, and as it turns out, science suggests that the act of clenching your fist — as you do with a stress ball — can actually relieve anxiety under pressure (so long as you stick to clenching your left fist).

 

A German study published in 2011 — which focused primarily on the act of clenching the left fist as a way of enhancing athletes’ performance in high-stress situations– found that right-handed athletes who squeezed a ball in their left hand before a competition were less likely to choke under pressure when compared to those who squeezed a ball in their right hand.

 

The theory was that since the left side of the body is connected to the right hemisphere of the brain and vice versa, by clenching the left fist, athletes in this study were able to stimulate the right side of their brains. This, in turn, can have an effect on performance because while the left side of the brain is associated with analytical thought and rumination, the right side is associated with automatic movements, like those we perform through muscle memory. These ties can reduce the kind of over-thinking that may cause people to choke under pressure.

 

The study focused on the role that clenching the left fist played in improving performance under pressure in soccer players, judo experts, and badminton players (wearehooligans.com)

The study focused on the role that clenching the left fist played in improving performance under pressure in soccer players, judo experts, and badminton players (wearehooligans.com)

While the study only focused on how right-handed athletes who clench their left fist could relieve anxiety under pressure, there is certainly reason to believe that the findings of the research extend beyond athletics. For example, researchers at the time suggested that a trick like this could come in handy for elderly people as a way of reducing the risk of falling. This is based on the notion that in many cases, the fear of falling causes excessive focus on movements, which can actually increase the risk of falling as opposed to reducing it. However, by clenching the left fist and activating the right side of the brain, it becomes possible to move in a more relaxed manner without over thinking movements, which may make stumbling or falling less likely.

 

That said, the science behind why this trick works for athletes suggests that it may also be generalizable to other groups of people. So the next time you feel the pressure weighing down on you, be it at work, at school, or (definitely) during a game, try this quick trick and see how it may enhance your performance by helping you get in the zone.

 

What are some of the tricks you use to stay cool under pressure? We’d love to hear them! Share with us in the comments below or tweet me @tamarahoumi