‘Choking’ can happen to stars/performers, high ranking executives and even elite athletes. It means that under a great amount pressure, performance takes a significant hit owing to the fact that the individual is unable to handle the stress.
External pressure is something that we all face, to varying degrees- though the way we choose to manage it separates those who bend under pressure and those who thrive in spite of it. For things such as public speaking, participating in a sporting event, taking an exam, sitting for a job interview, etc., the stakes are often high and hence ‘keeping calm and moving on’ is really not an option.
Here are four top tips to keep in mind if you would like to better perform under pressure:
No matter how good you are at multitasking, there will always be a main task that our minds can occupy itself with. Cutting out distractions and peripheral worries/concerns helps one to divert critical mind resources to the area of greatest need. A stressed person might feel as if he/she cannot focus on anything, but it would do you no good to get analysis paralysis and have your jaws to the floor with enormity of the problem at hand to the extent that nothing is done to address it. Conversely, living in the present and paying attention to the task at hand is key to learning and mental well-being. When faced with a high-pressure situation, take a moment to breathe, refocus on the most important task/desired end outcome and priorities the most important things to be done before knocking the tasks off one by one.
As the old saying goes, "Practice makes perfect". The more you practice, the better you will be prepared to for the challenge you’re up against. Practice comes hand in hand with planning ahead and anticipating areas whereby the stakes are increased and pressures may mount. Once these ‘high key’ events or tasks are identified, it will do you well to train and prepare sufficiently just like a soldier prepares for war or an athlete trains to win the top prize at the Olympics. As much as possible, try to practice under conditions that are as similar to or even harsher than the actual environment but always take incremental steps (i.e. when training to speak publicly, start with small groups you may be familiar with and slowly increase the size and invite people whom you do not know). On the flipside, practice can also be a double-edged sword- having too much experience in one type of rehearsed environment or simulation may make one less confident to adapt to last minute changes or things that do not go according to plan- see the next point!
Nothing ever goes according to plan – even this statement isn’t always true! When push comes to shove and everything seems to be going wrong, we have to rely on our internal compasses to guide ourselves and make decisions on the fly. Imagine you’re on a plane and an engine goes down- a good pilot flies the plane with the remaining engines to ensure the safety of the passengers as his/her top priority. Some stress can be a good thing- in fact, we are biologically wired to respond to stressful situations through a ‘fight or flight’ mechanism. As ironic as it may sound, improvisation can also be practiced, just like a good comedian or show host can keep an audience engaged even without a script. In some sense, this is more of a mindset to be ready for change and surf with the waves of uncertainty while keeping that swag. If we properly channel our nervous energy toward things that can be useful and improvise on our plans, we can turn a seemingly bad situation around.
The above is far from an exhaustive list, and we’re happy to hear more of your ideas, trips and thoughts on this topic. Granted that stress is uncomfortable, if we push through any discomfort, we will grow stronger once we reach the other end of the tunnel.
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