When you investigate the science of winning and sustaining that winning momentum – a lot appears to fall to, how you deal with pressure.
Harnessing pressure to produce your very best work or performance is not easy but there is some incredible advice out there if you look for it.
If you take 2 people with the same skill level, talent and ability and put them through the same tests and identical pressures – the winner will be the one who has also learnt how to engage what’s between their ears in order to achieve success. They have developed techniques to deal with pressure, tactics to overcome pitfalls and the strength of mind to combat obstacles without them affecting their mental state or performance.
In other words, people who have the skills to use their own minds as a weapon will beat the competition when having to perform under pressure.
Having spent many years reading sport psychologist’s advice and guidance on this topic – I wanted to summarise some of the key points which I have adopted for both work and sport in order to drive my performance forwards and to develop a winner’s mentality.
Martin Turner talks eloquently about the ‘challenge state’ which gets you to a positive place in order to approach a pressurised situation. In this state, your mental resources meet the demands of the situation that you find yourself in. The increased heart rate and decreased blood vessel constriction in order to supply the brain efficiently are capitalised on. We are in a state where we concentrate more, make good decisions and are in full control of thoughts and emotions.
One of my favourite studies on the mind games of willing yourself to not fail at something came from Professor Daniel M Wegner, please look it up if you’re not familiar with it. The ‘white bear’ experiment – where all participants were told not to think about white bears during an experiment. The evidence showed that, in trying not to think about white bears, almost all the participants spent the time thinking about and picturing white bears!
The same applies to walking up to the stage when you’re about to present to 200 people and saying over and over and over to yourself ‘ don’t mess up… don’t mess up… don’t mess up’ – scientifically many studies have proven that the more you tell yourself not to fail – the more you are likely to trip yourself up and you’re actually almost willing yourself to make a mistake.
Learning to see how small minor stress is, in the grand scheme of things, will help too. I was given that piece of advice many years ago – it’s hard to think like that in the middle of a mini-crisis or an uncomfortable situation but the more you practice that way of thinking, the better. Existing in the present rather than the past or future will also make you just take things with a pinch of salt and see that the small daily minor stresses can be overcome by using your mind effectively.
Make a conscious choice – is pressure good or bad to you? Reframe the pressure.
Is pressure good or bad? Your answer determines how likely you are to be affected negatively by high-pressure situations.
If you think of pressure in a negative light, then it will always come with negative thought processes and lead to self-doubt. Panic sets in, hurrying to deal with things and that mounting feeling of being overwhelmed.
So, what difference does it make if you see pressure as a positive influence?
It can actually improve your performance. Using nerves and pressure effectively can support good performance. The adrenaline produced when faced with pressure can make you sharper and more effective at the task ahead.
So, work on re-addressing pressure into a positive.
Tell yourself that you always perform well under pressure. Talk to yourself and make sure you tell yourself that pressure brings out the very best in you. Keep thinking and believing that the more pressure, the better you do. Turn the worry you had about the pressurised situation into a positive.
What key areas could you focus on in your business lives to improve your response to pressure?
If we look at the skills and attributes that highly successful athletes have, we can transfer a lot to the world of work to embed in our practices to become more successful.
It’s a list of skills which can be taken in isolation on by one and work on in development plans with your employees or leadership teams. Minor improvement in each area would make for a more successful and agile person or team. The key areas which high-level athletes work hard to build into their skills or develop them further every day are:
Teamwork – very little is achieved alone. Even if you’re performing alone – there will always be a team around you how has helped you along the way – coaches, leaders, psychologists, physios, family and friends to name a few. Team sports players know the benefit of being part of something bigger and playing a loyal and hardworking role as part of that team.
Communication – athletes develop strong communication skills. At all levels
Growth – knowing that there is always a way to grow and improve and actively seeking those opportunities out
Emotions – managing emotions effectively is a big deal when dealing with pressure
Coping – taking setbacks in your stride and looking at the next goals
Resilience – athletes work hard on the ability to be resilient in all aspects of their lives to enhance their performance
Learning – keep learning, read, open your mind to many ways of achieving success
Leadership – learn from great leaders, educate yourself on leadership methods and develop your own style.
Pressure – find that ‘challenge state’ in order to deal with specific pressures positively
Concentration – learn to extend your concentration levels and time scales. Focus and do not get distracted
Commitment – decide that you’re committed and then act like you’re committed – in all situations
Goal Setting – set them, aim for them, work for it, achieve them and then set new ones!
Motivation – consciously improve self-motivation, continued improvement, focus and the self-belief that you can win