Strategies for Succeeding under Pressure

Managing pressure effectively is an important element of success at work. Indeed, high-pressure situations can be sites of learninggrowth and professional development, as we feel pressure when the outcome is important to us, such as a critical mission or a public speaking event.

In “Performing Under Pressure: The Science of Doing Your Best When It Matters Most,” Hendrie Weisinger and J.P. Pawliw-Fry argue that pressure itself in fact has a negative impact on performance; what helps us perform in high-pressure situations is the ability to manage the effects that pressure tends to induce, like fear and anxiety, and in doing so, increase our chances of performing to our potential. Thus, by employing certain techniques, we can increase our pressure management abilities and perform better when it counts.

One technique is staying focused on factors that are within our power to change. Often when we feel pressure, we can ruminate on variables that are outside our control, which can be distracting and unhelpful. Instead, grounding oneself in the present can help direct our energy more productively into results-driven action. 

Longer-term habits related to time management and well-being can provide a good foundation to cope when pressure hits. Indeed, in the modern workplace we are often balancing busy schedules and competing demands, which can quickly become overwhelming without effective time management techniques. One of these is prioritising tasks and then giving attention to one at time. This helps to avoid multitasking, which can in fact reduce productivity – by 40%. Additionally, practicing good mental and physical health habits – getting enough sleep, eating well, and taking sufficient breaks – can foster good overall well-being and prepare us to perform at our best. 

Finally, psychological research suggests that mindset can improve performance. Some researchers advance that adopting a stress-is-enhancing mindseti.e. taking the view that overcoming stress will bring positive outcomescan help reduce anxiety and improve focus. In the TED Business podcast Train Yourself to Shine Under Stressprofessor Modupe Akinola of Stanford University explains one technique to attain this mindsetwhen encountering stress, we should think back to a time in the past when we faced a similar situation and succeeded, and actively remind ourselves of the positive outcomes that resulted. As Akinola emphasises, becoming better at handling pressure requires practiceAs such, we should not expect an overnight fix, but with time and effort, improving pressure management capabilities is possible.

References: 

  1. The role of stress mindset in shaping cognitive, emotional, and physiological responses to challenging and threatening stress, Alia J Crum, Modupe Akinola, Ashley Martin, Sean Fath, July 2017. Accessible at: https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/28120622 
  2. 13 ways to perform better under pressure, July 2015, World Economic Forum. 
  3. 18 Ways To Get Better At Working Under Pressure, July 2017, Forbes.
  4. 13 Secrets to Performing Well Under Pressure, Inc.