Whether you’re an Olympic athlete, a sales representative, or a college student, your ability to handle pressure influences your success – or failure. “A diamond is a lump of coal that worked exceptionally well under pressure,” Henry Kissinger once said. Life is full of pressure. You cannot avoid it, but you must not allow it to control or crush you. Instead, learn to comprehend it so you can make use of it. Dane Jensen, keynote speaker and CEO of Third Factor, presents ways in The Power of Pressure to help you learn to recognise, harness, and take the heat out of pressure moments.
When importance, uncertainty, and volume come together, pressure rises.
Pressure is a normal component of the human experience and can express itself in a variety of ways. If you’re a combat squadron commander or a police officer delivering a baby on the side of the road, your reaction under pressure can be the difference between life and death. Feeling sick before delivering an important speech or passing a final test is also a sign of stress. The distinction between pressure and other emotional states is that pressure necessitates action.
Pressure and stress are not the same thing. A loyal sports fan may be unable to bear the strain of watching his or her favourite team on TV. However, the real pressure is on the players. The fan is emotionally invested in the game, and the players have an impact on the outcome. Similarly, if you find that a close relative has committed suicide, you may be horrified and bereaved. The pressure lies with the individual who must call that person’s loved ones and explain what happened, tactfully and empathetically.
The following drivers form the pressure equation – pressure = importance x uncertainty x volume:
Importance – When the outcome of something is important to you, you feel pressured. For example, if you simply invested $5, you’re unlikely to stress over winning the lottery. However, if your future surgery includes even the slightest risk of death, you may feel differently about your chances.
Uncertainty – Uncertainty over how a movie or novel will end adds to the viewer’s excitement. Uncertainty about your profession, on the other hand, is pleasure, such as when your firm merges with another and downsizing is unavoidable.
Volume – Having multiple duties in life can cause tension and stress you down physically and mentally. When you feel overwhelmed by not having enough time for work and all of your other commitments, pressure builds up.
Pressure comes from within you and affects your body physically and metally
People often think of pressure as an outside force – something you expect under certain conditions, such as when your sales manager expects you to reach specified targets or when your sports team relies on you to score a point. However, situations do not produce pressure. Pressure happen from within, as a result of your reaction to the desire to act. For example, a person standing at the starting line, preparing for a running competition, may feel excited, while another person preparing to deliver a speech may be terrified.
Years of research and advancements in biofeedback – your physical responses – and neurofeedback – psychological consequences – demonstrate that stress affects people both physically and mentally.
For example, you may recognise cognitively that a noise originating from your basement is wholly imagined. Nonetheless, your pulse rate quickens and your breathing becomes shallower. Your brain, not your thinking, is listening to your body.
Years of relentless strain can be physically damaging. Over time, high cortisol levels can elevate your blood cholesterol, blood sugar, triglycerides, and blood pressure, increasing your risk of heart disease. Furthermore, persistent work pressure causes some people to abandon their self-care or neglect their families.
Surprisingly, the human organism’s survival instincts frequently clash with modern-day problems. When primitive people encountered physical threat, the fight-or-flight mechanism worked well. However, it is unhelpful when dealing with today’s challenges, such as presenting a significant presentation, because it removes the “skills required to thrive under stress.” Overcoming the “paradox of pressure” is the key to dealing with life’s challenges successfully.
Your perception of pressure alters how you respond and handle it
You may change how you react to pressure by changing your perception of it. In a “peak pressure moment,” for example, telling yourself that you’re “enthusiastic” rather than “nervous” can assist reduce tension.
This method will not work when confronted with a “long-term” difficulty, such as an Olympic hopeful undergoing years of gruelling training. Accept the challenge, conquer difficulties along the path, and commit to navigating through hardship to handle this kind of pressure and achieve fulfilment.
Whether you’re dealing with long-term pressure or a peak pressure moment, it’s vital to leave some space between the “trigger” and your response. Identify your thoughts, feelings, and bodily signs to give yourself time to decide how to proceed. When you act instinctively, you forfeit control and allow the primitive brain to take over. Only by taking a step back will you be able to successfully respond to and handle any situation.
You must endure stress to achieve meaningful results
In her book The Upside of Stress, Stanford psychologist Kelly McGonigal states, “Stress and meaning are fundamentally connected.” She explains that, while individuals do not feel concerned about unimportant things, it is hard to have a meaningful life without stress. Meaning and purpose are what allow people to overcome life’s challenges and achieve their goals.
However, significant moments are often temporary, and they frequently take a back seat to routine obligations and commitments. For example, as a parent, you devote a significant amount of effort to clothing, feeding, and sheltering your child. This can be a difficult situation. But what truly important are the times when you see your youngster get enthralled by an experience, such as watching snowflakes fall.
Three Fundamental Ways
“Growth,” says Shaun Francis, CEO of the wellness firm Medcan, of his first-year training at the United States Naval Academy. It was physically and mentally demanding, highly disciplined, and designed to prepare officers capable of performing under pressure. Despite being extremely challenging, the experience “gave you confidence that you could accomplish practically anything,” according to Francis. He went on to work as an investment banker in a similarly high-pressure atmosphere. He eventually left because, unlike at the academy, he believed the pressure did not help his growth.
“Contribution” – The author’s father, Peter Jensen, has given hundreds of seminars across the world on how to apply coaching concepts in business. He said he tolerated the constant travel and repetitive nature of the material because he could always pick out at least one audience member who was paying close attention. Helping others kept him motivated.
“Connection” – A year after winning the jumping gold medal at the 2012 London Olympics, Rosie MacLennan endured a series of injuries. She wasn’t sure if she was mentally or physically prepared to defend her Olympic championship in Rio de Janeiro in 2016. However, a day before the tournament, while sharing a jump with a Chinese rival, the two Olympians smiled, spoke, and cheered each other on. That “moment of connection” took a lot of the pressure off MacLennan, and she went on to win gold again.
Keep the pressure at bay by letting go of uncertain things that are out of your control.
Many religious and secular philosophies argue that the key to handling uncertainty is “separating controllables from uncontrollables”. Yet disruptive thinkers such as Steve Jobs and Elon Musk believe that transformative moments and events are possible only by challenging societal norms. Accepting uncontrollables means conforming – and recognizing that some things in life are unchangeable.
Regardless of your ideology, the following are absolute truths:
- You always have power over your own ideas and behaviours. Even if you think or act irrationally at times, you have the ability to reestablish your equilibrium. Nobody can make you feel or act in a certain way.
- You can never control another person’s thoughts or actions. Believing that something is doable frequently worsens the situation. You can’t also control the weather or technology malfunctions.
People are frequently caught in the gap that exists between the two poles. Your ability to accomplish a given outcome is a result of both your own efforts and factors beyond your control.