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Pressure: Meet the Villain

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Demolishers of cities and civilizations, slaughterers of heroes' fathers/mothers/lovers, terrorizers of little girls with fluffy kittens; villains are indisputably the axle upon which the wheel of fantasy turns. Without villains, you could not have the heroic battles between the Forces of Good and the Forces of Evil. Fantasy needs villains.

Unless your life is a fantasy, you don't need a villain in it, but the reality is you have one -- the pressure that permeates your life and more often than not murders your chances for success, and terrorizes you when you think about the challenges you need to meet to avoid being demolished. Pressure is a villain -- that's what I learned from studying the psychological construct of pressure, a point made in my new book, Performing Under Pressure: The Science Of Doing Your Best When It Matters Most (Crown, 2015).

While you might not love the metaphor but personifying pressure reveals it has the attributes of great villains making pressure a more than formidable foe for you to beat. Pressure: The Science of Doing Your Best When It Matters Most (Crown, 2015):

Pressure is staggeringly powerful. In fantasy, great villains have a way of making things bend to their will, often with the help of magical powers. Pressure has no magical powers but can still get you to succumb to its force be it in the creative meeting, a negotiation, a golf game. Getting you to forget a key fact, or block your ideas from surfacing, making you stumble in front of others, muff a task you've performed hundreds of times with perfection are all testament to the power of pressure.

Pressure is Intelligent. Effective villains are not necessarily intellectually gifted intelligent but they are intelligent enough to avoid making stupid decisions. Pressure gets you to make stupid decisions and commit sinister acts that normally you would disapprove of, likes cheating and telling lies. Great villains keep ahead of the hero and always consider their options. Pressure keeps ahead of you by having multiple ways of attacking you; stealing your memory power, disturbing your motor coordination, getting you over aroused are just some of the moves that Pressure makes to derail you.

Pressure is evil. The cores of great villains are evil, although they frequently believe in the rightness of their own cause and justify their actions in service of their cause. Pressure serves evolutionary development and thus, like many villains do, give its self a positive spin by proclaiming it its job is to test you, to see if you have the right stuff to advance. Yet, make no mistake about it that Pressure's ultimate goal is to get you to do below your capability, to weed you out. It's a real stretch to argue that making a sixth grader strike out in a little league game serves the evolutionary development of mankind or even major league baseball.

Pressure is deceptive. Great villains cannot be trusted so when it comes to Pressure, you must always be on guard. Pressure is adept at leading you astray. It builds "false trust" by setting traps baited with sweet incentives, friendly competition and disguising itself as a supportive audience when its intent all along is to make you do poorly.

Pressure is relentless. Great villains are possessed by an unstoppable drive to achieve his or her goal. This is where Pressure excels. Under no circumstances will it stop in its mission to derail you. A modern day Terminator, it will chase and hound you and try to sabotage you every time you need to do your best. Indeed, it is Pressure's relentlessness that makes you get to a place where the only thing you feel are loaded guns in your face.

How do you defeat such a commanding villain?

1. Use Pressure Solutions -- evidenced-based strategies that help immunize you to the injurious effects when you are in a pressure moment -- a situation in which you have something at stake and the outcome is dependent on your performance. Sales calls, presentations, auditions, a sports competition, a big test, are all common pressure moments. Example: Befriend your pressure moments as one of "many opportunities to come your way," not a "once in a lifetime opportunity."

2. Escape Pressure Traps by learning to navigate your life from an internal, empowering perspective rather than an external pressure intensifying perspective. Example: Follow your own interests and values rather than trying to live up to the expectations of others.

3. Build Your COTE of Armor by developing confidence, optimism, tenacity, and enthusiasm, the attributes that help you do your best daily, especially in your pressure moments. Example: Become more optimistic and enthused by "expecting" positive things to come your way and taking a few minutes each day to appreciate the joys of your life.

Using any of these strategies will help you become your own hero and defeat the pressure villains that try to sabotage your life.

I will be providing a series on "Pressure Management," and hope you will share your "pressure management" strategies and examples of your pressure moment -- situations in which you have something at stake and the outcome is dependent on your performance. We can all learn from each other.