Each of us has its own definition of what it means to be “under pressure”. For some it is a matter of having to give a presentation at work, for others it is about everyday life in running a business.
But however much our definitions vary, we are always able to recognize its effects on ourselves and on others: anxiety, sweat, a feeling of “blockage” in the shoulders and neck, nausea, the effect “butterflies in the stomach ”, and many others.
The pressure reaches us all, sooner or later. And when it happens, whether for business or personal reasons, our ability to reason and make decisions is strongly inhibited. And this is precisely the fundamental point on which we must concentrate: the real problem is not the pressure itself, but the impact it has on us.
The pressure principle is a multi-faceted philosophy that we can apply to better manage pressure. The concepts are simple to understand and apply, but the results are not immediate.
This method requires constant and lasting commitment, but long-term results are guaranteed. Philosophy consists of eight strands, all interconnected.
What is anxiety and how to use it to give us an edge
Anxiety is that feeling that makes us worry about an event. On an evolutionary level, anxiety serves to keep us away from danger. But often the danger is only perceived, not real.
What each of us perceives as “danger” varies from person to person, and it is precisely our perception of a situation that generates anxiety in us, not the event itself.
There are basically two types of anxiety: trait anxiety (characteristic anxiety), or the general level of anxiety that a person feels, and state anxiety (anxiety from state or performance), or the anxiety that we perceive in response to certain situations.
State anxiety is what we feel when we are dealing with a situation that is outside our comfort zone.
Anxiety manifests itself with physical symptoms, creating tension in our body, but also with emotional symptoms, creating distractions that can divert our attention from what we are doing. In its simplest form, anxiety is fear of failure. And it’s very simple to perceive something where we don’t achieve 100% success as a failure.
But it is precisely the thought of failure that is established in our mind, which leads us to have a negative perspective, contemplating the idea of a possible failure. To give our best in these situations, the key is to be able to concentrate on the goal to be achieved, blocking any destructive thoughts trying to make our way through our mind.
We try to accommodate state anxiety. It is a sensation that will be present, and will bring an increase in adrenaline and cortisol, which, controlled, can even improve our performance. We can therefore see anxiety as an engine that can give us an extra gear.
The power of language to modify what we perceive
Language is what binds everything we feel together, and defines the way we think about a situation. Using encouraging language, with positive and motivating messages, can have a huge effect on how we perceive a situation, an obstacle or a goal.
And, as we have already seen, our way of perceiving a situation is fundamental because it is precisely from our perception that the level of pressure that we feel derives. Likewise, it is true that using negative language can have devastating effects on our ability to perform, as it fills our mind with negative and catastrophic visions.
Words are the means by which we define each situation, but also our reaction. As in the analogy of the half full or half empty glass, we can react to a situation by saying that we are “anxious” or “excited”, perceiving something as a “threat” or a “challenge”.
Even just a change in the words we use to define situation and reaction can have a profound impact on the way we approach a question, and therefore also on the final outcome.
When we communicate, we can evaluate whether the language we use is suitable by measuring the response we get. If the answer is not suitable, then we must not look elsewhere for the problem: we must change the message.
Some concrete examples of the incorrect use of language are the negative phrases: “Don’t make mistakes” and “We can’t afford to lose” may seem encouraging messages, but deep down, they already establish in the mind of those who listen to the idea of failure.
But words are not the only part of a message. The tone of voice we communicate with is also an element of great importance. Using a decisive and encouraging tone, with phrases aimed at giving “charge” to the listener, are an excellent tool, because they increase self-esteem and self-confidence.
We try to make our communication personal, use present times and positive language. We try to clearly describe what will be the path that leads to the achievement of the goal, focusing on the key elements that help our performance and that of others.
Put aside the fear of failure and the fear of disfiguring
You learn by making mistakes. It is an old proverb, and it may seem like a phrase made, used senselessly. But the meaning behind it is fundamental.
The error seen as failure is deleterious, because it frames what is actually an essential part of any learning process as failure.
A great way to overcome this negative approach is to rediscover that curiosity that we had as children, when we wanted to learn to do something, and we kept trying to succeed. We did not allow a “failed” to dent our desire to succeed.
If we fell off the bike, we got up, got back in the saddle, and off we went. As we grow up, we are increasingly conditioned to see a failure as a failure because, for survival, our mind is led to give much more weight to a negative event.
In addition to the fear of failure, another element that creates stress when we are learning is the fear of disfiguring in front of others. We think of a question before our comrades in which we are wrong to give an answer, and the laughter that follows.
Instead, we must try to create an environment in which these processes do not take place, but in which error is seen not only as an accepted element, but essential to learning.
Let’s not focus on the result, but let’s think about the process we must follow to achieve it.
Overcome the state of “blackout” that occurs when you are under pressure
Our way of perceiving things is comparable to an iceberg. Our explicit thoughts, or those that happen by our will, are only the tip, while the submerged mass represents our implicit thought, or everything that happens in our subconscious.
When we are under pressure, our ability to access our memories and knowledge is put to the test, so the more complex the goal, the more likely it is that something will go wrong.
This is what happens when, under pressure, we have the “blackout” effect, a real mental block, like a traffic jam. This is because we strive to concentrate (explicit thinking) and try to manage negative thoughts, effectively blocking those mental processes that are semi-automatic (implicit thinking).
One technique to minimize this effect is to choose a response action, and to focus solely on it. In this way, we will avoid the overwhelming of disturbing thoughts, allowing our mind to act more freely.
10 rules to train yourself to reach a goal without being caught by anxiety
The ability to deal with certain situations is not something that is learned overnight. Whatever the size of our goal, the only way we can make sure we are ready to face the challenge is to train.
But training from the end goal is counterproductive, as it does not focus the importance on the process, but on the result.
Karen Pryor, an expert in dolphin training, has compiled a list of 10 basic training rules:
- increase the goal in small steps;
- focus on one criterion at a time;
- before moving on to the next level, reinforce the idea of success achieved so far;
- when you introduce a new criterion, be even more relaxed about the previous criteria;
- build a long-term training plan;
- do not change trainer midway. It is important to maintain consistency;
- if the plan doesn’t work, change plan;
- do not interrupt a session for no reason, do not be distracted by external factors;
- take a step back if the behavior regresses;
- always end on a positive note.
These criteria, although born to describe the training of an animal, are applicable to any path to achieve a goal. The important thing is that training involves, in the long term, a change in behavior, so as to be natural.
Overcome the unpredictability of situations by visualizing what could happen
As much as we can focus on our knowledge, skills and training, most of the situations we will face have at least a part of unpredictability. This is because the environment in which we are going to operate cannot always be 100% controlled.
This is why it is important not only to train yourself to face a situation when everything goes as planned, but also to try to imagine how a situation can change for the better and for the worse.
This will push us out of our comfort zone, pushing us to hone our ability to make decisions under pressure.
What is sensory arrest, how does it manifest itself and how to deal with it
How do some people, such as airplane pilots, manage pressure in situations where a mistake can be a matter of life or death? In such cases, the pressure to which we are subjected can cause a sensorial arrest, or the loss of the ability to perceive and process external stimuli.
When the pressure rises, it also manifests itself physically: the heartbeat rises, we start to sweat, we feel fatigued. This is why it is important that our physical form is optimal: if our body is able to react to these changes, and manage them without allowing them to take over, we will be ready to face even high stress situations.
A proactive approach that we can adopt is that of the command posture, the “command posture”. Straight back, chest out, broad shoulders: it seems the position “at attention” that soldiers use.
Consciously adopting this posture helps to counteract sensory arrest, thus helping us make decisions in situations of high pressure load.
Select and focus on the most important steps
One of the key concepts in this book is to focus on the process, not the outcome. This means that, when we have to perform under pressure, we must have clear every step that will be required.
But keeping in mind the process is not enough, if we have not trained to take those steps, so that we can repeat them without hesitation when the time comes.
Obviously it is impossible to focus on every little action, so it is important to select the most important steps. This will allow us to always have a clear goal, avoiding distractions and loss of concentration caused by intrusive thoughts.
Factors that allows us to achieve our goals without feeling pressured
The principle of pressure begins with anxiety, as it is our perception of the danger that causes pressure-related psycho-physical symptoms.
Our use of language allows us to frame this perception in a different way, minimizing its effects. Managing learning allows us to actively engage in improving the way we react to pressure situations. The implicit-explicit balance is our way of distinguishing between what we have to focus explicitly on and what instead we must be able to perform implicitly, automatically.
The most productive way to improve any skill is to frame it as a change to our behavior , in order to make the effects lasting over time. The environment in which we operate is an element of fundamental importance, therefore we must learn to analyze it, but also to deal with unexpected, positive or negative potentials.
L ‘ sensory arrest is what happens when we allow the pressure to take over, and we lose the ability to take decisions and deliver in an optimal manner. By putting all these concepts, knowledge and behaviors together, we can learn to think properly under pressure , making decisions and reaching our goals without getting caught by anxiety.