Eli5: What happens when someone tells you you’re doing a good job, you immediately start making mistakes and messing things up?

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This is something I’ve noticed in myself and in others. I (or someone else) can be doing a stellar job, but as soon as someone mentions I’m doing great, I start messing things up, making mistakes all of time, missing important details…etc

Just wondering if there’s a science to that.

In: Other

Eleventh hour fumble is a condition in our heads in which we get into an accident and the concentration is lost at the very end. My friend was parking his sports car very near to a low stance lamborghini. We applauded because it seems like he parked it just right. Then the car went into motion and slammed the door to the other car. It’s not just an *Oopsie*. Everything went well until we jinxed it.

Mostly it’s a combination of pressure and stress.

People like to perform and be seen doing well. When you are doing something by yourself you are putting all your attention into what you are doing. When you do it in front of someone, some of your attention goes to reading how they are responding, some of it goes into keeping yourself calm, part of it goes into preparing for failure, part of it goes into wondering how the person will react. Essentially, the more things you have to focus on, the harder it is to succeed.

While adding someone watching you seems like a small change, it adds a whole ton of factors that you start to think about.

In addition to psychological reasons like getting stressed, there’s an aspect of memory involved often.

If you’re good at something, it generally means you’ve committed the process to procedural memory. Procedural memory is fairly automatic. You don’t have to think very hard, your body just flows with the procedure, like throwing a three pointer in basketball for skilled athletes.

Someone yelling about doing good causes you to pay attention to what you’re doing. Ironically, this interferes with the smooth flow of your procedural memory and introduces more conscious, controlled behavior back into the thing you’re doing. The skill you developed involves that unconscious procedural memory, but now you’re too conscious to access it properly, so you do worse.