Pressure does strange things to us. It has a way of bringing everything to the surface. It can replace the measured discipline and rhythm of every day life with a sometimes irrational self-sabotaging desperation.
We all face pressure situations, and can all plan for how we are going to respond to them…to some extent.
For me, a nightmare situation at school was to be in a classroom, for the teacher to ask a question and single me out to answer it. The pressure to respond would always cloud my judgement and wipe everything from my mind.
I would end up with little to say that wouldn’t make me sound like I hadn’t been listening. Or like I was just a bit stupid.
The England football team is notoriously bad at coping with the pressure of the penalty shootout during competitions. Other teams seem to take it in their stride. They remain composed and slot their penalties home with consummate ease.
The England players, fans and coaches seem to panic. And understandably so I guess, thanks to the self-fulfilling prophesy syndrome that comes from losing seven out of eight of them in major competition.
When X-Factor contestants find themselves in the part where they are singing for survival many of them make it incredibly unpleasant to listen to. They shout, they warble, they do all sorts of inappropriate dancing around their notes. They force it.
When a sports team is losing with not long to play, their strength is measured by their ability to handle pressure. Do they trust their game plan? Do they panic and start trying to force it? You often see teams and individuals tighten up, playing in a way that actually serves the opposition.
At work or at school you have a deadline looming. What do you do? It’s so easy to panic, to spend all your waking hours devoted to thinking about it, trying to start, trying to finish, trying to do the middle bit, procrastinating, calling your colleagues, deciding that the whole thing is rubbish, looking for other jobs, reassessing your life.
It is normal to respond to pressure with force.
The Fight Response is what leads you to force it. It’s what makes you overthink the thing you’re doing. It’s what sends the penalty over the bar. It’s what makes you shout instead of sing.
The Flight Response is what leads you to decide you need a new job. It’s what makes you abandon your game plan. It’s what gives you the belief that you’ve chosen the wrong career path, and that everything would be better if you could just get away from this current situation.
Most top sports teams/individuals deal with psychologists now to help them cope with performing under the pressure, both of competition and the gaze of the world’s media. Andy Murray is a prime example of someone who has come through this in tennis, developing great ability to cope with the pressure of the big situation, even winning the ultimate pressure for a British player; Wimbledon.
But we all face pressure, every day. From the salesman when you buy a car, coping with an unfair or difficult-to-work-for boss, bringing up children and balancing the different areas of our lives.
There are plenty of ways to develop how we cope with these pressures, and they don’t cost a thing. They just require the decision to be mindful about the response. I’m obviously no expert but I find the following quite helpful when I’m faced with pressure:
- Breathe deep and slowly. Concentrate on that simple process
- Allow your perception of time to be dictated by your breathing, and not your heartbeat. This relaxes you and slows you down
- Focus on the very basics of what is required of you
- Do not make your move, or speak until you feel ready
- Keep your actions and words as simple as possible