We all have our pressure moments -- situations in which we have something at stake and the outcome is dependent on our performance. For some, it's giving a presentation to senior management, an audition or job interview. For others, it's a crucial conversation, sports completion, sales call or taking a test.
I've studied the topic of pressure and how best to deal with it for 25 years and one conclusion that I've drawn based on empirical research conducted around the globe and clinical and consulting experiences is that people who perform their best in a pressure moment do so because they have a pressure-less mindset -- a habitual way of perceiving a pressure moment that triggers confidence, optimism, tenacity and enthusiasm -- the specific feelings and behaviors that minimize feelings of pressure.
If you want to do your best when it matters most, here's the mindset to create:
Think: "It's a sweet opportunity" If you perceive pressure as threatening, you are sure to be negatively impacted by its occurrence. People who do their best in a pressure moment perceive them as an opportunity, fun or a challenge. These words will enable you to befriend the pressure moment, and approach it with confidence and enthusiasm. Your audition is an opportunity to show your stuff; the presentation is an opportunity for you to impress your clients; the project is a challenge to do your best. Tell your team to enjoy the project and your daughter to have fun at her dance recital.
Think: "I'll get another chance" Under pressure, we often lose perspective and distort the reality of the situation via "cognitive pressure distortions" -- thoughts that intensify the feelings of pressure. One of the most common is the "Chance of a lifetime," in which we tell ourselves "I will never get an opportunity like this again, so I better not blow it." When you think of a pressure moment as a "singularity" you quadruple the stakes and intensify the pressure to succeed and not to fail.
Think: "I've done it before." People who do well in pressure moments remind themselves that while it is a big opportunity, it is one of many opportunities that will come their away. When you remember the reality--that you do get multiple opportunities, you will feel less pressure because it will no longer be a "do or die" situation. You'll feel more relaxed and do better.
Think: "It's no big deal." It's common practice for people to tell themselves that their presentation, sales call, interview, or crucial conversation is very important so they will want to do their best but paradoxically, the more important you make a pressure moment, the more pressure you experience and the worse you do. People who perform their best in pressure minimize the significance of the upcoming pressure moment and thus feel pressure-less. Whether it's a sales call or an interview for their dream job, they are like winning athletes who, when asked how they prepare for the pressure of the big game, respond, "It's just another game."
Think: "I'll do my best." The mantra for people who do their best under pressure is, "I'll do my best." This is what they tell themselves when they are going into a pressure moment. Focusing on doing your best quickly diminishes pressure in the moment because it distracts you from anxiety arousing thoughts and keeps you on track and guides you into doing what is necessary to achieve your best. If you want to have a good interview, focusing on doing your best will make sure you are well prepared, and thus more relaxed in the moment. Don't confuse this with focusing on the outcome. If you do that, you will begin to worry about whether or not you will succeed and be distracted from what you need to be doing to succeed. Focusing on doing your best keeps you in the moment and guides your behavior towards success.
Think: "I can control how I respond" Focus on what you can control. People who do their best in a pressure moment focus on what they can control and thus minimize anxiety because it prevents them from wasting valuable energy worrying over things they can't influence and simultaneously promotes confidence because it allows them to focus ion the most important variable in a pressure moment--how they respond. If you have an upcoming interview don't worry about the other applicants, you can't control them. Instead, take care of your own business.
Think: "What if this happens..." People who perform their best in pressure moments build their confidence by practicing or mentally rehearsing how they will handle an unexpected problem and thus be adaptive in any pressure moment. They think "what-if." What if the power point breaks, what if I have less time than expected, what if my team partner doesn't show up...This leads to a sense of control that prevents them from losing your composure if the unexpected does occur.
Think: "I've done it before." Individuals who consistently perform their best in pressure moments frequently flashback on their successes. Remembering past successes ignites their confidence you did it before and you can do it again. The more frequently these successful experiences are thought of, the more they are embedded in your brain and the more likely they are to resurface in the current experience. Before a pressure moment, flashback on a success in a similar experience so that you can stimulate the same type of response that helped you before.
Put these thoughts together and they will help you build your COTE (confidence, optimism, tenacity, enthusiasm) of Arms, the best thing to wear when you have to perform your best.
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