A few months ago, I first wrote about improving your performance under pressure. In that piece, I focused on dialing up and down the factors causing you to feel pressured so you could more often operate in the “sweet spot” where your performance would be optimum.
In addition to that approach, however, there are several other ways to improve your performance when you’re feeling under pressure. Let’s go over a few of them right now:
Get Comfortable with Pressure
This seems a fairly obvious technique, but it’s not easy to implement. The reason is simple: it’s hard to simulate real pressure. For example, I used to work with successful stock traders who would invest super-large sums in stocks, bonds, or options. It was from them I learned how difficult it is to simulate the pressure of risking six- or seven-figure sums. “Paper trading” just isn’t the same.
This is true of practically every real-world pressure situation you may face. Nevertheless, you can sometimes ramp up the feeling of pressure to perform on your less-important tasks, projects, and goals. Doing this over and over will make you more comfortable with the unavoidable pressure you’ll feel when you tackle the really big jobs.
You can increase the feeling of pressure to perform by such tactics as:
- Reducing the amount of time available to do the work.
- Letting others know what you’re working on, along with the high standards of accomplishment you’re trying to meet.
- Attempting to do the work some new way, or without the helpful tools and other supports on which you usually rely.
- Adding some adverse conditions or impediments that make the work more difficult than it need be.
Distract From the Pressure
It’s not often recognized, but the real problem in dealing with excessive pressure is mostly the stress it produces when you think too long and hard about the difficulties and challenges of the situation. So in addition to learning how to cope with stress, as I’ve discussed here, you can improve your performance under pressure by short-circuiting the stress-inducing thoughts.
You can distract yourself from the pressure and the stress by:
- Focusing on something else. This should be both specific and less important. Athletes often do this by meticulously preparing for their event, placing their feet and arms just so, and arranging their clothing just the way they want it.
- Involving yourself in music, conversation, a podcast or video, or something else that attracts enough of your attention that you can’t ruminate on the pressure you’re facing.
Get Right to It
Another good way to short-circuit unwanted thinking is to act quickly, before you have too much time to dwell on the difficulties and challenges.
As an example, I once had to unload my motorcycle from a truck by riding it down to the street on a narrow ramp, 15 feet long. While I knew the motorcycle could negotiate the ramp perfectly well, I also realized the longer I sat at the top of the ramp, thinking about what I had to do, the more nervous I would become. So I jumped on the bike and very quickly started down the ramp. Not surprisingly, I got the motorcycle to the bottom perfectly well.
Work Through the Emotions in Advance
It’s a curious phenomenon, but separating your feelings of stress and anxiety – chronologically – from your performance can help you produce much better results.
In other words, it’s beneficial to create an early opportunity to review and reflect on the feelings that pressure and stress are generating in you, and then afterwards tackle the pressure-filled task, project, or goal.
For a variety of reasons, working completely through these feelings – and perhaps even writing them down in detail – seems to defuse some of their power to cause you stress and impair your performance.
The truth is that you cannot entirely eliminate pressure, and its resulting stress, from your work and your life. But you can use these and other techniques to become more comfortable with it and otherwise reduce its ability to make you less than fully productive and successful.
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