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Pressure Tips — Trust me, you need them more than a pen.

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How do you perform under pressure?

  1. The same as usual
  2. Worse than usual
  3. 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.

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.

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I recently conducted a webinar for the UCLA Anderson School of Management Alumni Association on Performing Under Pressure.  The evaluations showed listeners found it very useful so you might want to check it out



Swim or sink?

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Here is Michael Phelps summarizing my book and online class, Performing Under Pressure.  It won’t help you swim like Phelps but if you can handle pressure, you won’t drown. https://www.nbcnews.com/better/video/olympian-michael-phelps-how-i-conquered-pressure-1258216515959


HOPE: The Best of all Possible Things

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Ever since Pandora let hope out of the box, hope has served man well. Studies show that adults and children who score higher in hope (1) score higher in self-esteem, meaning in life and happiness, (2) cope better with injuries, disease, and physical pain, (3) excel in academics from elementary to graduate school; 4) perform better in sports. Reflect on these findings and you will see they are all descriptive of resilient individuals.

What makes hope spring eternal resilience? Considering that nobody “invented” resiliency, it must be Hope’s evolutionary function: to prolong life by attaching the individual to a positive outcome. The cancer stricken patient is resilient because he or she wishes to see their grandchildren; the manager is resilient because he wants to be successful.

We often admire the resilient individual as if he or she is doing something special by overcoming adversity through the most trying conditions, but the fact is, life is hardwired to be resilient.   Eco systems after draughts and floods bounce back. The body, without treatment, mends its own injuries and you often recover from a cold without intervention. The same is true for our emotional landscape. A broken heart mends, and after a devastating setback, spirits may be down but for most come back up; remember depression is an illness.

Contrary to conventional wisdom, there is nothing special about being resilient —Mother Nature made you that way so that you could work through difficult moments we all encounter—so that you can prolong your life. From an evolutionary perspective Hope fuels resiliency.

Yet, what about individuals who lack resiliency, those who give up easily or let a setback send them into depression, the ultimate killer of productivity, and what about a company that throws in the towel and spirals downward because of a product failure or loss of market share. These non-resilient individuals and organizations have a common denominator—they have lost hope— no chance of achieving a favorable outcome- and thus, see no reason in making an effort. A physician might say, “He’s lost his will to live.”

Resiliency can be returned, fostered, and instilled in any individual, studies tell us, if you create hope and you can do so by applying the major concepts of Hope Theory: Agency and Pathway thinking. Agency, commonly called “willpower,” is the motivational component that propels people along their chosen routes to achieve goals and also reflects their belief in being successful: “I know I can do this!” is a high will power belief.

Pathway thinking is the ability to identify the necessary routes to achieving that goal. The more pathways or way power, the more the individual or organization perceives the goals can be achieved, and the more hopeful they become. More effort results and resiliency is in action. Two tips to take:

  1. Create “will power” by establishing meaningful goals that provide purpose and meaning. These goals are physically arousing and translate into directed energy. After a setback or in times of adversity, reiterate your meaningful goals, purpose and meaning and you will begin to feel resilient.
  2. Create Pathways. Brainstorm and problem solve obstacles away by creating and innovating new routes that can help you achieve your goal. Break each down into a simple step and each one taken, will increase the individual’s will power to continue. The individual becomes resilient because he or she is hopeful they will make it.

Hope—it’s the best of all possible things.

Pressure Tip

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Make Yourself Positive Before Pressure Moments

Each of us has an internal “GPS” system programed to give us a positive attitude and confidence. However, life circumstances can instill negative tendencies. Reboot your GPS with positive visualization of your performance, assuming a good outcome (“when” you succeed, not “if” you succeed), and using confidence building statements,” I’m going to do my best.” When you are positive, you minimize anxiety and trepidation and that helps you perform your best.

EI Spice —gives a better taste to your marriage!

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As you are probably well aware, there is considerable empirical research indicating those who apply emotional intelligence to their lives are more broadly successful than those who don’t.  In other words, if you manage your anger when your boss criticizes you rather than shouting back, you will be more likely to be successful.  Your chances of success also increase if you can harness your emotions for self-motivation and respond productively to adversity. No doubt, EI is a career success skill.

Similarly,  it’s an easy stretch to confidently say that marriages that apply EI are much more successful than those that don’t. A patient never told me he or she was leaving his or her marriage because their partner was too understanding, or attentive to their needs, or supportive and encouraging.

I’ll spare you the case history of the couple that couldn’t resolve conflict, give positive criticism to each other, laugh together, and share their intimate thoughts and feelings, but then, as they applied EI to their marriage, it miraculously became better — just trust the point, that if you want better returns on your marriage investment, add some EI. Two actions to help you get started are: building relationship awareness and managing marriage emotions.

Build Relationship Awareness. High self-awareness tells you what your emotional nutrients are — the factors that you need to thrive, but for a marriage to thrive, you and your partner have to be aware of each other’s emotional nutrients so that you can assist each other in having your needs met. After all, you first entered the relationship because it met your emotional nutrients at the time.

What we need to grow changes all the time so it is EI marriage policy to frequently be aware of whether or not the marriage is supplying the emotional nutrients to your partner. When partners feel their relationship helps them grow, they are motivated to keep it going. Here is an EI marriage exercise to help:

You and your partner independently make two lists.
List 1: write down your three most important emotional nutrients.
List 11: write down what you think are the three most important emotional nutrients for your partner.
Exchange the list and use the results to brainstorm how the marriage can do better in meeting both your emotional nutrients.

Managing Marriage Emotions. An important finding in emotional research is that emotions impact performance for better or for worse. Some emotions, like anger and anxiety can either enhance or impede relationships and performance, while confidence, optimism, tenacity and enthusiasm typically enhance performance and make relationships productive. Depression almost always impedes performance and has a long-term effect of souring the relationship.

The implication here is that marriages that can manage anger and anxiety advantageously, avoid depression, and can create confidence, optimism, tenacity, and enthusiasm will be more rewarding than those who let anger and anxiety get out of hand or unable to generate happy times

What makes it difficult to manage marriage emotions? The emotional landscape that occurs when you are with your partner, is a process called emotional contagion. The term refers to the well documented fact that emotions can be likened to a social virus in that they spread from one person to another. Put another way, you can literally catch your partner’s anger, anxiety and depression, or similarly, you can mood infect your partner with confidence and enthusiasm.

Using emotional contagion to your advantage is the key to managing the emotions that impact your marriage. There are many skills you will need to learn.

The first step is to make sure you can “relax on cue.” Doing so reflects using your EI ability of being able to regulate your emotional arousal. Being able to regulate your emotional arousal allows you to immunize yourself to catching your partner’s emotions, thus allowing you to keep proper emotional perspective, something that is typically lost when both partners are experiencing anger, anxiety, frustration and fear.

These emotions typically increase emotional arousal and cause a mental rigidity that prevents one from making accurate interpretations of the situation and generate counter productive behaviors, like a shouting match or storming out of the house. Furthermore, when both partners simultaneously experience these emotions, the tendency is for each to feed the other, causing an upward spiral that fuels emotional turmoil. This is the danger of emotional contagion.

When both partners can regulate their emotional arousal, each is able to make accurate interpretations of the situation and in so doing, free themselves from being negatively influenced by the other’s emotions; you don’t yell back at your partner because she yelled at you, or you don’t become anxious when your partner’s anxiety about household expenses gets out of hand.

Staying relaxed in the face of these emotions allows, at least one person in the marriage, to keep proper emotional perspective and thus guide the marriage to better grounds.

Here’s an EI Marriage tip: On a daily basis for the next two months, practice a relaxation exercise with your partner.

The result will be that you will find that your marriage is better able to manage emotions that typically send partners to opposite sides of the house.

In future articles, I will provide more specifics on adding EI to your marriage. For now, building relationship awareness and combating emotional contagion so anger, anxiety, and fear do not get out of hand, is a good beginning to sweetening the deal you made with your partner — more better than worse!

For those of you in a rush to add EI to your relationship, go to www.drhankw.com

Did you take Pressure Dynamics 101 & 102? Both Required for Success

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Can you summon your talent at will?

Can you deliver on a deadline?

Can you sleep at night?

Don’t be a chump and think you actually perform your best under pressure –you don’t, and neither does Brady, LeBron, and for sure, not the President of the United States!

Studies conducted around the globe clearly indicate that nobody performs better when they feel pressure. Contrary to conventional wisdom, the edge is not rising to the occasion, but rather to immunize yourself to the injurious effects of pressure so that you can perform your best. The caveat is that your best might not be good enough but anything short often takes you out of the game.

Nevertheless, if you want to do your best in life and direct it with confidence, optimism, tenacity, and enthusiasm, then two classes you should definitely take are Pressure Dynamics 101 and 102.

I can’t claim to be an expert in thermodynamics but I do claim expertise in pressure dynamics, a term I coined that refers to the forces that combine to create feelings of pressure when we perform a task, whether it is giving a presentation, making a sales call, performing in an audition, taking a test, or playing in the company golf tournament. These 5 forces or dynamics are:

  1. Importance
  2. Uncertainty
  3. Desire for Incentive
  4. Aversion to negative outcome
  5. Responsibility

If you understand the effect of pressure dynamics, you can regulate feelings of pressure and minimize them so you can perform your best when it matters most.

Pressure Dynamics: 101

Focuses on how and why the 5 pressure dynamics intensify feelings of pressure

  • The more important you make a task you are to perform, the more pressure you will feel and the worse you do.
  • The more uncertain you are about how you will perform your task, the more pressure you will feel.
  • Desire for incentive: The more you want the incentive for performing successfully, the more pressure you will feel.
  • Aversion: The more you fear a negative outcome, the more pressure you will feel.
  • Responsibility: The more responsible you feel for the results of your task and to other people, the more pressure you will feel.

Pressure Dynamics: 102

Prerequisite: Pressure Dynamics 101

Focuses on how to leverage pressure dynamics for reducing pressure intensity. Some principles covered:

  • You can reduce your feelings of pressure by shrinking the importance of the task or situation.
  • You can reduce your feelings of pressure by increasing your confidence to perform the task.
  • You can reduce your feelings of pressure by focusing on doing your best rather than attaining the incentive.
  • You can reduce your feelings of pressure by challenging the irrational statements you associate with a negative performance outcome and affirming your self-worth.
  • You can reduce your feelings of pressure by sharing your feelings.

To master pressure management, go to: https://hankweisingerphd.com/b2c/