The Art Of Failure: Panic VS Choke

I am in no mood for writing today but since I have a ten page paper due later, I have made it a point to finger warm my way through a blog post. A blog post that I have given a lot of thought lately, thanks to all the psychology majors I had the displeasure of dating but to be fair, understanding how a person perceives the world and how it reacts to it is quite fascinating indeed.

And what better way than to write about the act of failure, or how Malcom Gladwell in his article published in the NewYorker back in 2000, also published in his now-not-so-recent-book What The Dog Saw: and Other Adventures, "The Art of Failure." [HERE]

Gladwell, in his article, clarifies what the terms choking and panicking means. Often, people use these words interchangeably, confusing choke to be panic and vice versa. The author mentions, quite clearly, that while both are mind games that the body likes to play with you, they are quite different in the sense that choke refers to the condition where the mind over-thinks a certain situation while panic under-thinks. I am not going to go through the exact instances through which Gladwell explains his points but rather will give two of my own experiences of choke and panic. Which you might find entertaining since people are weird and like to see other people f**k up.

I am no different btw, so you can go chill out.

The Panic: Under Thinking under Pressure

I was in grade 9 and was selected to go for the "nationals" of a swimming competition to compete in the qualifying round in Heat III for the breast stroke 50m race. Being the diligent competitor I was, I duly came to all my practice sessions, went through the school's horrible diet plan and had quietly worked on a game plan over the course of my preparation.

So when the announcer finally announced my name (nobody cheered) as I came out from to the stands onlooking a packed crowed, I knew I was ready. I stood on my lane, took a few deep breaths to calm my nerves down and as soon as the batter went "BAAT," I took a long dive into the pool and into the race. I was feeling good, was being extremely competitive and I had that feel-good feeling that I was going to make it to the finals.

But then something happened. Unlike my school pool where I had a holder at the end of the pool to make the turn and complete the remaining 25m, the pool at the competition had none. Just tiles. So when I did make the turn, placed my foot on the surfaced and kicked hard, I kept slipping. While other competitors propelled themselves further, I was just at the same place trying to kick my way through.

A classic case of panic undertook me as I kept pushing the slippery tiles without any progress on the swim. All I could think at that time was..well..nothing. I tried to look for ideas and nothing popped up. Later, I just gave up pushing and swam my way through losing considerable time and distance placing me last. last.  Ouch, all that preparation for nothing.

So what went wrong? Why could the others turn so smartly and not me? Why was I the only one panicking? Well, to be quite honest, I had no clue that underneath the surface of the water, there was a wooden plank, a plank that wouldn't be slippery and would allow me to turn and push myself into the competition. Since I was 1) too busy focusing on the race and beating others 2) trying to push on the tiles rather than the plank and 3) panicking, nor did I see the plank which I should have in the first place as I was making my way through or think that there might be something else than the tiles.

A textbook example of under thinking. Ironically overthinking might have just been the cure, allowing me to at least locate the wood instead. But it's not always helpful..

The Choke: Over thinking under Pressure

In grade 10, after deciding to retire from competitive swimming entirely, I took up badminton, and ended up in an interschool, national level competition in the same year. While I wasn't yet good enough for singles, I was paired up with a junior of mine Rohit for the doubles (which is weird because you first become good at singles then move on to doubles), and we both practiced together, there was a sort of gay badminton chemistry between us and finally, as the D-Day arrived, we knew were ready.

Or so I thought. Having gone 15-19 and with just one point from the game point, I started becoming overly self-conscious about my body movement. My muscles would tighten, and all of those fluid movements were now mechanical. My serves even wouldn't cross the net!

Rohit did his best but once you lose your partner, you can't do much. We lost 21-19 as the other team made a comeback and on the next set, they ended up beating us 09-21. The more I thought about not screwing up, the more conscious I was becoming of my moves and the more it was affecting the way I was playing. Stupid psychology.

Trying to make sense of it all

What I come to know about me is that I am no genius, that I have slow motor and brain reactions to things and that I suck hand-eye coordination and I often screw things up. While I do have my frustrations, the fact is that... this is who I am and I choke and I panic quite a bit. If I think about all the time I needed to perform, from that time when I was five and I really needed to play well on the soccer field to get into the club to the time I was in the pool competing, I always sucked. Like sucked real hard. Of course, there were exceptions but they were inconsistent and too far in between to give any legitimate sense that I had recovered.


1) I think the general way forward for me is acceptance. Accept the fact that these things are part and parcel of the life and these things happen. The more I think the "whys" the more I happen to stress out.

2) The principle of not giving a shit is a hard one indeed. We are judged for our actions all the time and even if people claim that they don't judge, they do. Even if people claim that they don't give a shit about anything and they write it in places where the public can see and say "Oh! he doesn't give a shit about anything," they actually do.. even more. But what I found was pretending to not give a tits about anything and making that a second nature could actually work. I usually implement that in my class/term presentations (while dressing up well) and I don't choke or panic. Well, most of the time. It's not a fool proof method.

3) Focusing on the process not result: Because process is the only thing that I can control. So can you.

4) State of constant, perpetual crisis/improvement: One thing I have noticed about myself is that every time I attain a certain goal after working incredibly hard to attain it, I slack off. I open my tv for days treating myself like a king, going on bing eating and doing all those incredibly stupid things you do to treat yourself. The crisis has been averted so why not just go back to my comfort zone? Why not just hang out there now? It's done. I have attained it.

I had the same complacency when I got into the most prestigious school in Nepal. I had worked my socks off to beat the rest of the kids in my school and then gone on to ace the entrance examinations. Once I saw my name in the newspaper, I knew I had made it.

I mean wtf? Nobody told me that was just the beginning of the very beginning and that I had not made it. I was so busy basking on the sunlight of people's praises that I completely screwed up my first examinations, failing in my own mother tongue.

The same shit happened right after SLC results came out, I had beaten most of the 'talented' kids in the school, missed out on the top ten by a rank and thought that even though it wasn't the most ideal result, I had made it.

No f**king way, too busy basking on the same praises, I ended up getting an E in physics on my first A level grade tests and got enlisted in the principal's demerit list. E in physics lol.

Guess what? the same shit happened after my A-level results came out and the same shit happened when I ended up in Seoul National University. Working really hard to attain something and then going on to slack way too long. There's a reason why my GPA in my freshman year was an incredibly "you can't go to graduate school" 2.3 average. The rest 3 years was all about trying to get myself a GPA that would allow me to go to graduate school.

It's almost like a sine curve but with slacking-off plateau every other time. It's time to do some signal processing.


I will be taking time off from my blogging duties until next Friday when I have to appear for my Graduate School Qualification Examination. I didn't know until last Friday that I had an exam so it's going to be quite delightful preparing for it.


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