All of us, no matter how successful in our field, will face adversity at some point in our career. Although often unavoidable, these situations can make or break us. When the pressure is on, the difference between thriving and burning out is resilience. Resilience is, was, and always will be crucial to high performance. It’s as important as ever. Having resilience and consistently performing under pressure doesn't happen by chance. Below are 10 things you can do to help you deliver when the pressure is on.
When you're under pressure making the right choice is difficult. It requires what we call ‘Performance Intelligence’: the ability to identify the best course of action given your knowledge, understanding of the situation, past experience, and awareness of available resources. Given this, how can you show ‘Performance Intelligence’ when your next challenge comes along?
1. Assess the situation
As job roles grow in their complexity, our understanding of our working environment can diminish. Don’t be afraid to ask the obvious questions upfront.
2. Draw on your past experiences and strengths
Think about how you reacted to similar situations in the past, what the outcome was and how you can apply that learning to this situation.
3. Learn from others
Watch what other high performers in your ﬁeld are doing, get regular feedback and seek out those with differing knowledge to help you identify the best course of action to take
Emotions are an essential part of performance because they dictate your energy ﬂow1; however, it’s how you manage your emotions that determines success. So, what’s the secret to emotional control?
4. Develop an ‘inner radar’2
Being aware of how you are feeling in a stressful situation allows you to better perceive those emotions ‘as they truly are’ rather than exaggerating them in your mind. Identify the feeling, name it, and then move on to analysing it.
5. Adopt the mindset of an objective scientist
Suspend judgement on your emotions, explore them, and think before acting. It’s easy to become entangled with your emotions, letting them distort your focus and inﬂuence your decisions. By detaching yourself and analysing your emotions objectively you can reduce their impact.
6. Use emotions wisely
Research suggests that being in a slightly sad mood can help people conduct careful, methodical work, while being in a happy mood can stimulate creative and innovative thinking.3,4 Emotional control is about harnessing the right emotion at the right time.
7. Keep your ultimate goal in mind
Managing emotions hinges on having clear goals. If you can keep in mind what you want to achieve it’s easier to prevent your emotions from getting out of control.
What you pay attention to and chose to focus on, is a key determinant of success under pressure.5 But, how do you hone in on something when today’s world is ‘always on’?
8. Be mindful
Mindfulness training has been shown to enhance concentration and attentional focus.6 To improve focus, be fully present and engaged in the current task. It’s easy to jump from task to task, but research suggests this ‘multi-tasking’ actually decreases productivity.7
Make sure your task list is clearly prioritised along two dimensions ‘importance’ and ‘urgency’. This will help you to avoid getting stuck ‘ﬁreﬁghting’ or spending too much time on the jobs that don’t matter as much.
10. Let go
Categorise aspects of your work in terms of ‘controllability’: what you can control, what you can inﬂuence and what you can’t control. Then, spend the most time focusing on what you can control.
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1Murphy, S. (Ed.). (2012). The Oxford handbook of sport and performance psychology. Oxford University Press.
2Goleman, D. (2006). Emotional intelligence. Bantam.
3Isen, A.M., Johnson, M.M., Mertz, E., & Robinson, G.F. (1985). The inﬂuence of positive affect on the unusualness of word associations. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 48, 1413–1426.
4Salovey, P., & Grewal, D. (2005). The science of emotional intelligence. Current directions in psychological science, 14, 281-285.
5Gray, R., & Cañal-Bruland, R. (2015). Attentional focus, perceived target size, and movement kinematics under performance pressure. Psychonomic bulletin & review, 22, 1692-1700.
6Chiesa, A., Calati, R., & Serretti, A. (2011). Does mindfulness training improve cognitive abilities? A systematic review of neuropsychological ﬁndings. Clinical psychology review, 31, 449-464.
7Ophir, E., Nass, C., & Wagner, A. D. (2009). Cognitive control in media multitaskers. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 106, 15583-15587.