You might have messed up a job interview that you really wanted to ace. Or, you may have completely blanked out during a key presentation that you’ve been rehearsing for weeks. We’ve probably all crumbled in a high-pressure situation before. It happens to the best of us. No matter how talented or well-prepared you are, if you can’t calm your nerves and perform in the decisive moment, you’ll fail.
The higher the stakes are, the more important it is for you to know how to stay in control of yourself and of the situation regardless of how much pressure you feel. For those in leadership positions, this is especially crucial. People take their cues from their leaders; if the leaders flounder and can’t hold it together, everyone suffers.
To that end, here are six tips on how you can learn to perform under pressure.
When you’re heading into the proverbial battlefield, the last thing you want to do is to get mentally stuck on the outcomes. If you’re already feeling buried under mountains of pressure, you’re probably going to think about all the things that could possibly go wrong instead of what could go right. Doing this will almost certainly put you in panic mode when you need to be calm and collected.
One of the best ways to keep it together in high-pressure situations is to visualise yourself succeeding. Engage in positive self-talk; think about how your best self would handle the situation, and then do precisely that. Tell yourself things like, “I’m confident. I’m personable. I’m capable. I’ve got this.” It might make you sound crazy if you said it out loud, but it’s an excellent way to psyche yourself into achieving peak performance when you need to.
“Did I make those edits to slide 15? I don’t remember.” “What if I didn’t?” “They’re going to think I’m ridiculously incompetent.” “This is it; this is how my career ends.” How many of us have had a similar train of thought to this right before the big moment?
Don’t mentally go over all the little details of what you’ve prepared when you’re just about to step on stage. This will only make you second-guess yourself. When you’re as nervous and stressed as you are right before the decisive moment, you need to be confident and secure. Thinking about the details, though, will lead you down a slippery slope of irrational fear-mongering.
The fight-or-flight mentality can make a massive difference to your performance. If you see the pressure as a threat to your survival at work, you’ll amplify your nerves and enter a jittery “flight” mentality. Your mind will be geared towards avoiding failure, which will only undermine your confidence in your ability to triumph over the situation.
Conversely, if you see pressure as an indication that this is the perfect situation to learn and excel at work, your mind shifts into a “fight” mentality. Consequently, you’ll have greater mental clarity, and you’ll actively seek out success instead of passively averting failure.
The great Roman Stoic philosopher Seneca once said that “we suffer more from imagination than from reality.” When you’re under a lot of pressure to do well, it can be easy to slip into catastrophic thinking.
Overthinking things in this way over-estimates the direness of the situation and the severity of the consequences of failure. You might think this is your only shot at success when the reality is that it’s not. The more you tell yourself “I can’t fail,” the more you’re playing into reverse psychology and fanning the flames of your fears of failure.
People often underestimate how cathartic and helpful it can be to confide in someone else about how stressed and scared you are that you’ll fail. Don’t be afraid to talk to someone you trust about the gravity of the pressure you feel on your shoulders.
Remember: allowing yourself to be vulnerable and authentic is critical for your emotional and mental well-being. By talking through your fears with someone, you’re not just practicing better self-awareness; you’re also reducing the power of your fears over you.