When we are under pressure and don’t want to fail, our brains make us act cautiously and deliberately.
Imagine you’re at a party, holding a glass of red wine filled to the brim. To your horror, you realize that to greet the host you have to cross an extremely expensive white carpet. So what do you do? Probably, you’ll slow down and focus on each and every step. But why?
It’s important to understand that the brain is made up of two systems:
The first is called the explicit brain system. It is rather slow, and it is activated when we try to consciously control our movements, for example, when we are performing a tap dancing routine for the first time and need to memorize the steps and control each movement of our feet.
The other system is called the implicit brain system, and it is active when we perform tasks automatically, without concentrating on what we’re doing. It allows us to control our movements quickly and fluently, and it can even process multiple tasks simultaneously.
Once someone has mastered a task, that task is taken over by the implicit brain system, meaning that they are then free to focus on other tasks.
But when people are under pressure, they often revert to the explicit brain system and begin to monitor every single movement they make.
Of course, important tasks are prone to inducing pressure, especially if failure in them would cause unpleasant consequences. This is why people sometimes behave strangely when they’re doing something very important; they are afraid of failing.
For example, as you carry that wine glass across the precious carpet, you’re afraid of spilling it and angering your host, so you revert to the explicit brain system that you normally only use when learning completely new skills, and hence walk very slowly and deliberately.