How to progress under high pressure
Margins to attain success are often thin, and yet the outcomes are so black and white: you sign the contract or not, you win or you lose. Mismanaged pressure is playing a critical role in these situations.
Here is how I would define pressure: it is an interference with your ability to concentrate on a process. Consciously or unconsciously, it decreases your level of performance and ultimately your ability to attain your objective.
You create what you think about
Pressure is deeply correlated with anxiety. Most often, anxiety involves the perception of a threat, rather than an actual physical threat. Our perceptions are generating anxiety rather than the situation itself. How often do you think about the risk of you failing to do something? Compare that with how often do you think about the opportunities that success will bring?
Once you give mental space to the perception of potential failure, then it may become a self-fulfilling prophecy – you create what you think about. Your mental build is critical to creating positive pressure. For instance, there is a clear difference between moving toward something (wanting to achieve it) and moving away from something (not wanting to fail). How is your mind operating when you are under pressure?
Trying not to muck up your exams, your presentation, the interview you are about to attend: it is all planting the idea of failure in your mind. It is far more effective to visualise yourself successfully completing your exams, presentation or interview.
If your primary motivation is to avoid unfavourable outcomes, you will very likely suffer from increased anxiety, and you will react at the last minute when the pressure is at its peak. Pressure is a question o proportion, use pressure to propel you with adrenaline as opposed to jeopardising your plans.
To a skilled performer, anxiety is essential. The physical symptoms, such as the increased heart rate, sweating, and muscle tension as a result of adrenaline, are the juice to produce that extra bit, the extra reach to achieve your goal.
A bird sitting on a tree is never afraid of the branch breaking, because his trust is not on the branch, but on its own wings.
- Denzel Washington
How to navigate pressure
Here are a few elements to help you recognise and navigate pressure in a way that will serve you.
1. When you are under pressure, your heart rates rise and your attention narrows – consumed by your stress. The awareness of your environment plummets as well. Be aware and breathe deeply to inject oxygen in your system.
2. There is a reciprocal relationship going on with a stressed mind resulting in a stressed body, the stressed body then making for an even more stressed mind. Set your body to shape a commanding posture, the advantages aren’t only physical there are huge mental benefits as well.
3. How would you feel if you knew you couldn’t fail? Instil inevitability in your mind. It is a question of reframing your thought to believe that there is an inevitability about what you are about to accomplish. If you know you are going to perform brilliantly, the anxiety will become excitement.
Your ability to progress when you are under difficult circumstance lies in your mental perception. Controlling your thoughts by predicting positive outcomes is key to move from high pressure to positive excitement.