How Pressure Affects Performance

Pressure

I work better under pressure.  Courage is grace under pressure.  When you work under pressure you trade perfection.  Pressure is something you feel when you don’t know what the hell you’re doing.

Perhaps somewhere along the way you’ve heard someone say one of these things, or maybe you’ve been the one saying it.  Regardless, pressure takes many forms, and delivers an equally different number of outcomes.  But harnessed properly, pressure can create a winning edge in business.  I had a former boss that said, “it’s my job to back the bus up as close to the edge of the cliff as possible without going over”.  That’s pressure.

Pressure develops our ability to adapt.  Under pressure we may be tempted to look for the path of least resistance yet it’s most likely that the situation created by this pressure has already eliminated all the paths without resistance.  All that’s left are the paths that present resistance ,including conflict, confusion, and discomfort.  The better equipped we are to effectively deal with the confluence of these challenges the better we are able to succeed.

While human nature leads us to avoid pressure I would submit that seeking pressure improves performance.  Diamonds are made under enormous pressure; without it they are just rocks; carbon deposits.  But with pressure they turn into beautiful gems of great, and often times, enormous value.  Top performing athletes are molded under pressure moments.  Peyton Manning holds the record for the most 4th quarter comeback wins with 44.  By definition, comeback, means pressure.  You’re behind.  You’re losing.  That’s pressure!

Look for opportunities to experience pressure.  Volunteer for a project at work.  Offer to bat clean-up on your baseball team.  Commit to losing a certain amount of weight in a specific period of time.  Tell others that you plan to get a certification or license of some sort by the end of the year.  All of these create moments of pressure. Only in times of pressure will you be able to see what you’re truly made of.  Remember how diamonds are made, and even further how that process creates the hardest, natural-made material known to man.

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2 thoughts on “How Pressure Affects Performance

  1. Greg Somers

    Could not agree more. There have been numerous performance studies to back up this theory. Saw some excellent real world examples of this while teaching Bridge Resource Management in the Ship Simulator at the Coast Guard Academy. Peak performance of individuals & teams always occured during more stressful simulations. The best / most insightful tool for students was observing the replay video and identifying the stress triggers that improved performance.

    1. Thanks Greg! The military is an excellent example of performing “under fire”. Your point about reviewing film also resonated. I guess that’s why the great athletes spend as much time on watching film as they spend on the field. Great points!

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