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.