The word ‘pressure’ is often used interchangeably with the word ‘stress’ but they are different. Stress is the result of excessive pressure – it’s what we experience when we enter the red zone on the Pressure – Performance Curve (see the image on the left).
In “Performing Under Pressure: The Science of Doing Your Best When It Matters Most,” (Crown, 2015) psychologist Hendrie Weisinger, Ph.D. defines pressure as:
“Pressure is a situation in which you perceive that something at stake is dependent on the outcome of your performance.”
We experience high pressure when we’ve only got one opportunity to get it right – like stepping up to kick the winning conversion in the rugby world cup final, or delivering a presentation to a client or attending a job interview. This isn’t a problem, because we need some amount of pressure in order to perform at, or close to, our best (the yellow zone on the Curve). When we perceive we have the resources to cope with pressure we feel challenged and experience excitement. We have the energy and focus we need to perform at our best.
However, when we perceive the pressure has exceeded our ability to cope (i.e. too many demands and not enough resources) the challenge feeling is replaced by anxiety – the fear of failure. This fear triggers the stress response and we experience the cocktail of stress symptoms: physical; mental and behavioral, that we’re all familiar with. These symptoms degrade our performance in the short term, and if the stress becomes chronic, in the longer-term.
Pressure is an inside job
As Weisinger points out in his definition of pressure, it’s our perception of situations or events that creates pressure, not the situations or events themselves. The fact is, nothing ‘out there’ in the world has any meaning until we give it a meaning. So in order to ensure we consistently perform at our best we need to be able to change our perception of the particular situation we’re facing. Here are some techniques that can help you change your perception.
- Focusing on what to do (a strategy focus) rather than on how to do it (a technique focus) can help you perform at your best.
Sports scientist Robin Jackson has identified what he calls the Paradox of Control. When you are unconsciously competent at an activity but you consciously focus on your technique in the hope you’ll perform better, this conscious focus gets in the way of your ability to perform at your best. Perhaps you’ve experienced this when playing a sport? In the past I ruined many rounds of golf because I shifted my focus onto my swing or putting techniques.
- Use positive affirmations
Using empowering self-talk in the form of affirmations before a performance can help foster the right mind-set for performing at your best under pressure. Affirmations are short, positive realistic statements grounded in fact. They are framed in the present tense. They can be said out loud or to yourself. Some examples:
“I have prepared for this moment. I’m excited and ready for this.”
“I am in control and as I concentrate on breathing I remain relaxed”
“I have an excellent memory and can recall what I have to say easily and effortlessly.”
Research shows that just the process of writing out affirmations is beneficial in helping people perform better.
- Write for ten minutes about your thoughts and feelings concerning the upcoming activity you’re about to perform.
Research shows that when a person repeatedly confronts, describes, and relives thoughts and feelings about a situation the very act of disclosure reduces negative thinking, which frees up cognitive horsepower to tackle whatever comes your way.
These are just a few of the techniques in my coaching toolbox. If you’d like to explore how I can help you develop the skills you need to consistently perform at your best under pressure, simply get in touch with me.
Wishing all the best for a challenging and successful week.
Tony Yuile is a Personal Development Coach & hypnosis professional based in Wellington NZ, where he specialises in helping people achieve their goals and overcome the barriers that stop them from enjoying life to the full. Tony’s solution focused approach to coaching uses a range of techniques drawn from the fields of co-active coaching, hypnosis and neuro-linguistic programming (NLP). Contact Tony today to discuss how he can help you, or if you think Tony could help someone you know, you might like to encourage them to get in touch with him.
This article contains the personal views and opinions of the author, which may change over time. It is intended to be for information only and does not constitute medical advice. For medical and health advice, always consult a qualified medical professional.