Although working memory is important for navigating tough reasoning tasks, it is not always optimal to rely on it. In nerve-racking situations, these accomplished individuals may try to manage every little nuance to insure that they come out on top; however, this may result in a negative outcome.*
"If you are doing a skill that is better left on autopilot, maybe hitting a putt that we have made a thousand times in the past or giving a speech that we have memorized completely, that kind of control, trying to dissect every word or step can really backfire," Beilock told LiveScience. Essentially there’s not enough brainpower to go around, and so something has to give.
Yeah, I've definitely had this happen to me. When I joined the military, I had to shoot at rifle ranges for qualification or competition. I always shot pretty good scores. But when I was having a particularly good day and potentially looking at a really high score, on the last round or two of targets my shooting would inevitably fall apart under the stress. And it wasn't even that I got jittery or anything. I was doing everything right; it's just that everything that could possibly go wrong went wrong. In the end, all I could say was that I was trying too hard or concentrating too hard.
In later years I fixed the problem by taking breaks between each and every shot to look at the grass or the floor in front of me. And I mean I really do look closely at the ground in front of me, to totally remove the thought of the next shot from my head. It only takes a couple seconds, but after that I come back up refreshed and the next shot goes right where it should. In a way, it's counter-intuitive: breaking up my concentration like that for every shot would seem like a bad idea. But across the years I've justified the practice by saying that it "refreshes my eyes."
So I was interested to read your article and learn about the physiological mechanism behind that.
I've also noticed something akin to what your article mentions about public speaking. Jumping straight into a prepared speech can be nerve-wracking, like a high-wire act: Will I present all the information as I planned? Sometimes I try so hard to get everything perfect that in the end I get tongue-tied. I do much better when I can interact with the audience first, ask and answer a couple questions, and ease into the speech that way. Then I think of the speech as providing needed information to the audience, rather than as a performance on a stage. It flows more naturally, and I tailor the information to the audience.