Elite players openly admit to the existence of pressure.

The players who succeed in pressure situations don’t eliminate the pressure; they deal with it better.

This leads me to a question I’d like to discuss…

Who is better equipped to deal with a pressure situation? Someone who is normally self-conscious, or someone who is NOT?

What Is The Definition of Pressure?

You’ve probably felt it, and you probably have your own definition. But for the sake of this discussion, I’ll use the definition from an expert on “choking in performance.”

Dr. Roy Baumeister, an expert on “choking,” defined pressure “as any factor or combination of factors that increases the importance of performing well on a particular occasion.”

I other words, pressure is something that makes what you are doing, important.

Pressure is trailing the lead by one, with one hole to play.

What Does It Mean To Be Self-Conscious?

Wikipedia defines self-consciousness as “a preoccupation with oneself.” When a player is under pressure, they become self-conscious.

We become self-conscious under pressure because our actions become more important, therefore we pay more attention to them.

To sum it up simply…

Our Actions + Our Attention = Self-Consciousness

Self-Consciousness + More Importance = A Pressure Situation

Based on what I have covered, I think the player who is normally self-conscious, or has more experience being self-conscious, is better equipped to deal with pressure.

This is the case because the increased self-consciousness brought on by pressure is closer to the norm for someone who is regularly self-conscious.

In a recent discussion with Dayne Gingrich, personal experience, Rory McIroy and Tiger Woods were all situations brought up to address this question.

After some explanation, I believe each of these examples support my point of view.

Dayne’s personal experience began with him being self-conscious and failing. He eventually overcame that self-consciousness and succeeded in pressure situations.

This would lead me to believe that his ability to deal with pressure situations improved with experience. He didn’t eliminate being self-conscious in a pressure situation; he actually learned how to deal with it better.

Rory McIroy’s collapse at the Masters fits my point as well. McIroy has been a superstar in his short career, and I have no doubt he will win multiple major championships. I do believe however, and I assume everyone agrees, him holding the 54-hole lead at Augusta was the most pressure packed situation of his career.

The heightened self-consciousness that situation created was like nothing else he had ever experienced. Because of how much pressure was brought on by that situation, he was not well equipped to deal with it.

I am a little reluctant to dive into Tiger’s situation, but I can’t resist.

His personal matters have put a microscope on his every move like never before. This has lead to an increased self-consciousness within Tiger. He knows everyone is watching to see if he screws up, chokes or if he is finally making his return to the top.

This is something he has never had to deal with before and it is still foreign to him. Because of this, his performance has suffered. In all honesty does the Pre-2009 Tiger Woods EVER lose the Masters when he is tied for the lead with 9 holes to play?


Right now, he is not equipped to deal with the self-consciousness that comes with the increased pressure he is under. I do believe however, it is only a matter of time until he gets comfortable in those situations again.

How Does This Help You?

If you agree, we can conclude that a past experience of failure under pressure is in fact an asset. It is something you can use to learn and better equip yourself to perform in the future.

Players that are not self-conscious need to experience it, then learn to succeed with it before they can progress.

I know not everyone can agree with this without debate, so please feel free to add your thoughts in the comments.

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photo by familymwr

9 Responses

  1. As I understand it, self-awareness is simply knowing we exist. We could accurately assume that we’re constantly “self-aware.” Self-awareness always exists in our subconscious mind.

    Self-conscious is one step further. It is being consumed by our existence and our actions. It is our conscious mind being focused on our self.

    Given that I would keep them separate.


  2. Very thoughtful post! I have a different view of how the self-conscious perform under pressure, especially because this was me. I DID lose the self-consciousness through practice, rather than learning how to play through it.

    Being self-conscious is more than only being self-obsessed. Its also about being hyper aware, fearful, & insecure about what OTHERS think of us. Under pressure, I was more worried about how others were judging my performance, which obviously didn’t allow me to play at my best. When I LEARNED how to “block” them out, I instantly became more focused and could concentrate on the task(s) at hand.

    Therefore, I believe the more self-conscious we are under pressure, the worse we perform. I view self-conscious as a negative; as an over-focus on what others think of me. Our definitions may simply be clashing.

    Great post!


  3. Hey Dayne. Thanks for the comment.

    I actually think we somewhat agree, we’re just stating it differently, and our definitions are definitely clashing like you mentioned.

    I believe the self-conscious person is better equipped because they have had the experience to deal with the heightened self-consciousness brought on by pressure, better. Would you have learned to “block-it-out” if you had not experienced failure while being self-conscious in the first place?

    I do see where our definitions are different however. My definition of self-conscious is much simpler, and I hold the other factors you mention, separate from it.

    Dealing with those factors better is exactly how a self-conscious player improves in pressure situations. I believe a person or player can be self-conscious, and secure. (i.e. They are conscious of their actions, they know people are watching, they know people will have an opinion, yet they are still able to direct their focus to where it needs to be to succeed.)

    This is turning into a pretty complex discussion…and I love it!

    Thanks for the comments guys.


  4. I don’t believe being self conscious is key to performing well under pressure. I would’ve needed to block out distractions whether or not I was self conscious. By being so worried about others’ opinions, it added another element that I wish hadn’t been there.

    Pre2009 Tiger was only focused on his stuff, without worry of others’ opinions. Current Tiger is now obsessed with everyone, which is hindering his game. Yes, he needs to learn how to block it out … but this “extra step” isn’t needed to perform well under pressure, in my opinion. I dont believe he’ll be better off because hes so self conscious. Pre 2009 Tiger was the toughest golfer alive, mentally… without being self conscious.

    Good discussion.

  5. I believe players have a capacity for pressure. It might be possible that Tiger’s capacity for pressure was greater than anybody else. Mostly due to his up bringing I would assume. It took an international embarrassment for him to reach his pressure capacity.

    The same would apply to Rory. Leading the Masters through 54 holes is his pressure capacity for this point in his career. He will certainly learn from it, and increase that capacity for next time.

    When a player is put under-pressure, they become self-conscious. The person who has experienced being self-conscious before, will be better prepared to deal with it than someone who has never experienced it before.

    I wouldn’t say being self-conscious is key either. I would say it gives the player who has experienced it before an edge. Because they have already had the opportunity to experience the situation, and learn from it (whether they failed or succeeded before).


  6. Kevin: I think your point is best exemplified by someone turning a video camera on themselves for the first time. If you are under the age of 2 you have no ability to be self conscious so the vidcam has no effect on your behavior. If you are old enough to realize that this machine is going to record every word you say, and you are not experienced in front of the camera, you will all of a sudden be hyper aware, usually in a negative way, of yourself. The same thing happens to a golfer who is used to playing in small groups or perhaps with a random few people watching from the #1 tee, who then plays in an event where maybe 20 or 30 people are watching. Their level of self-consciousness is so much higher than what they’re accustomed to that they cannot function naturally because their body literally cannot move as they’ve trained it to move. With the video camera, in my case, through spending a lot of time in front of it, the level of pressure has dropped dramatically because I can instantly think “yes it is recording everything but ‘so what?’ I can always edit it” and for the competitive golfer the experience of playing under pressure gives them relief to be able to notice becoming extra self conscious and find a way to say “so what” and realize that it’s the same game they play when they’re in their regular foursome.

  7. That’s a really good comparison. In the case of casual/amateur players competing in tournaments at the club or local level, the thought of their score going up on a scoreboard has the same effect, even though there is no actual gallery watching them play. Good stuff Nick.


  8. Yeah that’s true there’s the outcome that seems so permanent. I love that part about golf, the formality of the scoring and the signing of the card and acknowledging exactly what took place for those 18 holes. You’ve really hit on some interesting topics in your blog.

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