How do you perform under pressure?
- The same as usual
- Worse than usual
- Better than usual
If your response is “A” you are in the minority. If you answer “B” you are in the majority. And if you assessed yourself as a “C” you are delusional!
My answer sheet is based on twenty -five years of studying the subject of pressure—what it is, what causes it, and how best to handle it. I’ve learned that for most people, pressure is a saboteur of their success ––at work, and at home.
Whether it’s a presentation to your company or chapter, a crucial conversation with your partner, or making a decision that will significantly impact the future of your company, pressure downgrades your performance. Specifically, your cognitive success tools—attention, memory, judgment, and decision- making– are all worsened in your pressure moments—situations in which you have something at stake and the outcome is dependent on your performance..
What about elite athletes —those who rise to the occasion or star corporate performers who do their best and most creative work when the clock is ticking? You might be surprised that I learned these people do not exist. In fact, nobody does better under pressure. My new book and recent NY Times Best Seller, Performing Under Pressure cites many noted empirical studies that enlighten us to many of the pressure myths that we hold and are popularized in the media. Elite athletes such as Michael Jordan, for example do not do better under pressure and studies from the likes of Harvard Business School and Princeton show that creativity and quality work is decreased under pressure, not enhanced. In short, pressure does not bring out the best in us — but it often brings out our worst.
How pressure derails you, I’ve learned, can happen in numerous ways Sometimes it attacks your thinking –worrying about the consequences of a poor performance instead of focusing on the task at hand. Other times it causes anxiety and fear that zooms up your heartbeat and stiffens your body –not helpful if you are in the midst of making a put in a golf tournament or tennis match. Regardless of pressure’s M.O. the result is the same—you do worse when you want to do your best.
What can you do to limit pressure’s injurious effects? Try these 4 pressure tips.
- Befriend the Moment. Do you see high-pressure situations as threatening or as challenging? Do you embrace such moments or do you dread them? Seeing pressure as a threat undermines your self-confidence, elicits fear of failure, impairs your attention, short- term memory and judgment, and spurs impulsive behavior. It also saps your energy. Perceiving the pressure moment as a challenge, opportunity or even fun is an inherent performance steroid and allows you to approach the moment with confidence and enthusiasm, two pressure fighters. Just after the opening game of the NBA playoffs between the Chicago Bulls and Cleveland Cavilers, Bull’s star Derrick Rose was asked how he readied himself for the pressure of the game: “Stay focused and have fun,” was his response after his winning performance.
- Know There Are Second Chances. Tell yourself before any high-pressure moment that this is just one of many opportunities to come your way, otherwise your fear of blowing a “once in a lifetime opportunity,” will occupy your thoughts and increase your anxiety. The fact is, it is realistic to think that additional chances will come your way. Consider the number of people who needed multiple opportunities to succeed: Oprah Winfrey was fired from her first job as a news anchor, and JK Rowling’s book was rejected by 12 publishers on the grounds that a book about a young wizard was unsellable. I remember a YPO president in Dubai telling me he was starting his own financial investment company. “What happens if it fails?” I asked him. His response, “Well, I will just start something else. There’s always something else.” Remember that in your pressure moments.
- Ask the What-if- questions. Anticipating glitches enables you to build your confidence by practicing or mentally rehearsing them, and it teaches you to be adaptive in any high-pressure moment. This lends a sense of control so that you don’t get rattled or lose your composure, be it by an unexpected question or sudden financial duress. Get in the habit of asking the what if questions. What if your power point slides malfunction when presenting to your company. What if your key assistant suddenly quits or becomes ill when you need him or her the most? Then figure out how best to handle the moment. This will give you grace under pressure.
- Speed Kills. We typically speed up our thinking under pressure resulting in jumping to erroneous conclusions and ignoring crucial information. Develop responses that give you more time, so you have the best chance to succeed. Sleep on a big decision if you can. If a customer or client says they need something “right away,” tell them its top priority, without committing to a fast schedule. In pressure moments that involve your cognitive success tools, slowing down in a pressure moment permits you think more flexibly, creatively and attentively.
- Share The Load. Sharing pressure feelings reduces the anxiety and stress that are part of pressure and make it distressful. In a team meeting, when its obvious everyone is under pressure, acknowledge the pressure feelings. The entire team will be relieved its out in the open and its not just them. Then the team can have a productive discussion about how best to handle the pressure they are experiencing. The same is true at home. Your partner can’t help reduce your pressure feelings if he or she doesn’t know they exist. There is no shame in feeling pressure, but if you don’t share your feelings, there is a good chance pressure will shame you. Too many keep their pressure feelings to themselves; no wonder they feel burdened.
Pressure moments are inherent in life and often decide whether or not we will advance on the paths we desire. The aforementioned tips will help you put forth your best efforts and increase your chances for getting the results you desire.