Sian Beilock

Executive Vice Provost, University of Chicago
Professor, Department of Psychology and Committee on Education, University of Chicago
Author of Choke and How Your Body Knows Its Mind

Having trouble under pressure? Re-train your brain.

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We’ve all been there. The big presentation at an all-important meeting. The final exam in a tough course. The last putt at the last hole of a tense round of golf. You’re ready: you know the material, you’ve studied the books, you’ve practiced your swing. But as you watch the partners’ expectant looks — or struggle to focus on the page — or try to read the green as your friends snicker — you fail. You fumble. You choke.

Why is so hard to show our strength under the gun? Conversely, why do some people thrive under pressure? Were they just born that way? Or can chokers learn how to keep their cool?

Sian is here to tell you — yes, they can. Her book, Choke, presents the latest neuroscience and psychology on what holds us back from working at our full potential. It’s a tour of the surprising factors that can undermine our confidence and sap at crucial mental faculties. Why does reminding a woman of her gender make her more likely to fail a math test? How could singing a song to yourself improve your golf stroke? What activities can you do with the people you manage to ensure they pull out their best performance under pressure (both individually and as a team)? Sian draws on her own research at the University of Chicago as well as other cutting-edge studies to answer these questions and transform our understanding of ability.

Sian’s insights, drawn directly from the brain science research that she conducts in her Human Performance Lab at the University of Chicago, aren’t limited to performing your best in pressure-filled situations. Her book, How The Body Knows Its Mind, provides insights on how we can leverage our bodies and our surroundings to perform at our best across the varied situations we face — at home, at work, at school and at play. From exercise, to meditation, to the importance of nature, to how we hold our body to exude confidence as we walk into an important meeting, Sian reveals how simple steps we take can have a big effect on whether we succeed or fail. More and more, neuroscience suggests that our brains do not stop changing as we age: they are continuously affected by our environments and our own patterns of thought. Sian believes that if we understand the science of the brain, we gain the power to reshape and train our minds to work the way we want them to.

Sian Beilock was recently appointed into a leadership role at the University of Chicago. As Executive Vice Provost “Sian will collaborate closely with University leaders on campus-wide space allocation and planning, and work to ensure major academic centers at the University — from the Libraries to the University of Chicago Press — support the University’s research and education mission.”

So invite Sian to speak for you, and listen as she unfolds the science of performance in her warm accessible way. You’ll come away educated about the way your mind works and with real strategies for improving results across the board in stressful situations. And when you ace that next presentation — thank Sian.


  • Executive Vice Provost, Professor, Department of Psychology and Committee on Education, University of Chicago
  • Young investigator awards from the Association for Psychological Science, Society of Experimental Psychologists, International Society of Sport Psychology, North American Society for Sport & Physical Activity
  • Ph.D., Kinesiology (sport psychology) Michigan State University
  • Ph.D., Cognitive Psychology, Michigan State University
  • BS, Cognitive Science, University of California, San Diego


How the Body Knows Its Mind

Ways Your Physical Environment Influences Your Thoughts and Feelings

Sian Beilock

An award-winning scientist offers a groundbreaking new understanding of the mind-body connection and its profound impact on everything from advertising to romance.

The human body is not just a passive device carrying out messages sent by the brain, but rather an integral part of how we think and make decisions. In her groundbreaking new book, Sian Beilock, author of the highly acclaimed Choke, which Time magazine praised for its “smart order to think clearly...and be cool under pressure,” draws on her own cutting-edge research to turn the conventional understanding of the mind upside down in ways that will revolutionize how we live our lives.

At the heart of How the Body Knows Its Mind is the tantalizing idea that our bodies “hack” our brains. The way we move affects our thoughts, our decisions, and even our preferences for particular products. Called “embodied cognition,” this new science — of which Beilock is a foremost researcher — illuminates the power of the body and its physical surroundings to shape how we think, feel, and behave. Beilock’s findings are as varied as they are surprising. For example, pacing around the room can enhance creativity; gesturing during a speech can help ensure that you don’t draw a blank; kids learn better when their bodies are part of the learning process; walking in nature boosts concentration skills; Botox users experience less depression; and much more. From the tricks used by advertisers to the ways body language can improve your memory, Beilock explains a wealth of fascinating interconnections between mind and body and how mastering them can make us happier, safer, and more successful.

Atria Books (January 6, 2015)


What the Secrets of the Brain Reveal About Getting It Right When You Have To

Sian Beilock

Why do the smartest students often do poorly on standardized tests? Why did you tank that interview or miss that golf swing when you should have had it in the bag?Why do you mess up when it matters the most — and how can you perform your best instead?

It happens to all of us. You’ve prepared for days, weeks, even years for the big day when you will finally show your stuff — in academics, in your career, in sports — but when the big moment arrives, nothing seems to work. You hit the wrong note, drop the ball, get stumped by a simple question. In other words, you choke. It’s not fun to think about, but now there’s good news: This doesn’t have to happen.Dr. Sian Beilock, an expert on performance and brain science, reveals in Choke the astonishing new science of why we all too often blunder when the stakes are high. What happens in our brain and body when we experience the dreaded performance anxiety? And what are we doing differently when everything magically "clicks" into place and the perfect golf swing, tricky test problem, or high-pressure business pitch becomes easy? In an energetic tour of the latest brain science, with surprising insights on every page, Beilock explains the inescapable links between body and mind; reveals the surprising similarities among the ways performers, students, athletes, and business people choke; and shows how to succeed brilliantly when it matters most. In lively prose and accessibly rendered science, Beilock examines how attention and working memory guide human performance, how experience and practice and brain development interact to create our abilities, and how stress affects all these factors. She sheds new light on counter-intuitive realities, like why the highest performing people are most susceptible to choking under pressure, why we may learn foreign languages best when we’re not paying attention, why early childhood athletic training can backfire, and how our emotions can make us both smarter and dumber. All these fascinating findings about academic, athletic, and creative intelligence come together in Beilock’s new ideas about performance under pressure — and her secrets to never choking again. Whether you’re at the Olympics, in the boardroom, or taking the SAT, Beilock’s clear, prescriptive guidance shows how to remain cool under pressure — the key to performing well when everything’s on the line.

Free Press (September 21, 2010)


"Do you want to hit better shots on the golf course? Score higher on the SAT? Get less nervous before speaking in public? In this marvelous book, Sian Beilock will tell you how, as she reveals the mental secrets to performing under pressure."
— Jonah Lehrer, author of How We Decide and Proust Was a Neuroscientist

"A wonderful exploration of what happens inside when you choke on the outside. Essential for anyone who has, or plans, to compete, and especially for those who have choked."
— Andrew Newberg, M.D., co-author of How God Changes Your Brain and Born to Believe

"Dr. Sian Belock is one of the world's leading researchers in human performance. In her book Choke, she explains with great insight the scientific underpinnings involved in individual triumph and failure — whether these take place in the world of sports, academics or business. The reader is arrives at a rich understanding of why and when people choke and more importantly how to achieve one's best in the competitive world. Choke is destined to be a classic in the world of human performance and is a must read for those who seek excellence in all domains of life." 
— Michael Lardon M.D., Sport Psychiatrist and author of Finding Your Zone: Ten Core Lessons for Achieving Peak Performance in Sports and Life

"When do we thrive under pressure? When is it better to stop thinking about what we are doing and simply do it? This informative book teaches us when less can be more, in sports, in exams, and other areas where performance under stress is critical. Its engaging real-world examples offer the reader a wealth of useful and challenging insights into how our brain functions when the heat is on."
— Gerd Gigerenzer, author of Gut Feelings: The Intelligence of the Unconscious

"Choke is required reading for anyone who has to perform under pressure. Beilock takes you on a riveting tour of the science of success, with an insider's insights into what it means for the real-world challenges of business, sports, and education. Beilock gives you the tools to make your brain choke-proof and rise to any challenge."
— Kelly McGonigal, PhD, author of Yoga for Pain Relief and The Science of Willpower


Sian tailors each presentation to the needs of her audience and is not limited to the topics we have listed below. These are subjects that have proven valuable to customers in the past and are meant only to suggest her range and interests. Please ask us about any subject that interests you; we are sure that we can accommodate you.

Leveraging social science research to create better thinkers, communicators, and performers

Often times we know what to do, but not how to tell someone else how to do it — the ‘curse of expertise.’ Putting together teams of people with varied knowledge and experience helps ensure everyone is on the same page. Beilock gives insights from social science research on creating the best teams and the best conditions to foster optimal individual and group performance.

Fostering team work — especially in times of crisis

The brain registers social pain much in the same way that it registers physical pain. This fact puts a whole new spin on how to develop teamwork. For instance, team-work exercises that help people feel more physically connected may help foster mental connectedness as well. Beilock unpacks the most recent brain science to help your group perform at its best.

Leadership and communication in the workplace

Simple things managers do, from putting the take-home point of an email in the first paragraph to helping to foster ‘collective intelligence’ in their teams can make the difference between good vs. great performance. Beilock unpacks the latest thinking on best-practices for leadership and communication.

Using insights from brain science to enhance productivity and create quality performances

When you are stuck on a problem, you are more likely to come up with the solution if you take a break rather than if continually toil away, beating your head against the wall. Psychologists call it the ‘incubation effect.’ Taking a break is akin to rebooting a computer when it has frozen, dead ends are lost and you come back with a blank slate, more likely to find the solution. Beilock gives simple, science-driven tips, about how to perform at your best.


Why do the smartest students often do poorly on standardized tests? Why did you tank that interview or miss that golf swing when you should have had it in the bag?Why do you mess up when it matters the most — and how can you perform your best instead?


Prof. Block on athletes, choking and the Olympics | UChicago News

Perform You Best Under Stress | Harper Lecture

Brain Teasers: Cracking the Mind's Toughest Riddles