Highly successful people are able to perform under pressure when it matters the most. Even when there are high stakes outcomes, they are able to stay focused and achieve their objectives.

In contrast, for most of us asking for a salary increase, dealing with a workplace bully or coordinating multiple projects are very difficult situations. The higher the stakes, the greater the pressure and that’s when our brains turn into porridge.

Fortunately we can learn from highly successful people who cope well with pressure. Build your resilience to improve performance under pressure by doing the following:

1.   Get perspective

When pressure really gets to you, your thinking processes become inflexible with a narrow focus on the problem and its negative aspects. You tend to think in binary options — good or bad; stop or go. It becomes difficult to concentrate and make well thought-through decisions. Your self-confidence takes a dive.

Action to take: You need to put the situation into perspective: it’s temporary, specific to this particular issue and is not a judgement on your self-worth. Ask yourself: will matter in three or five years? Another useful question to ask yourself is: would your best friend be reacting as you are? If not, you’re probably overreacting and here’s some suggestions of how to handle overreacting.

2.   Manage yourself

In pressure situations, the impact is felt in your body with rapid heartbeat and breathing, and also tummy and neck muscles tensing up. This ancient stress response prepares your body to react to an immediate physical threat such as a snake. It’s not so useful however when dealing with todays’ complex problems which require careful consideration and creative solutions.

Action to take: Decide to stay calm. Slow down by speaking slower and moving deliberately. Feel where you are experiencing the tension in your body. Loosen tight neck and shoulder muscles by rotating your head and relaxing shoulders. Relax tense tummy muscles by extending and then tightening them. A very effective calming exercise is to focus on your breathing for a few minutes, by counting to four while breathing in, and counting to four as you breathe out.

3.   Focus on the process, not outcome

In a pressure situation, we usually have very little control over what concerns us the most — the outcome. This lack of control is deeply unsettling to us as human beings, and so we end up obsessing about the outcome.

Action to take: If you can’t control the outcome, don’t focus on it. Let go of it. Think positively about what you’re going to do, rather than what you want to avoid. Focus on the process of getting to the outcome you want. Do this by thinking about the sequence of actions of what needs to be done in order to achieve the outcome.

4.   Keep your sense of humour

Pressure situations almost always involve negative feelings such as being anxious, scared or even angry. When you are experiencing these feelings, the words and language you use can make the situation even worse if you unintentionally convey overly pessimistic or negative messages.

Action to take: Decide to take things lightly. Smile. Try to find the opportunity to say something light-hearted or amusing. If appropriate, tell a self-depreciating story to lighten the mood.

5.   Connect

In a pressure situation our ancient adrenaline-fuelled stress response is to either act immediately, or to remove yourself as quickly as possible. That response is not particularly useful in dealing with people whose long-term cooperation is needed in your performance at work.

Action to take: Before initiating a difficult conversation, establish some connection and common ground with the other person. Ask them questions about themselves. Try to understand the world through their eyes. Then ask questions about the facts they have and beliefs they hold which are relevant to your conversation.

In summary: It’s important to perform under pressure when it counts the most. Try these five actions to cope better so that you can perform at your best no matter how difficult the circumstances.

Resilient Leadership WorkshopResilient Leadership Workshop
Leaders learn how to keep stress positive. They assess their Team Members strategy-fitness and learn three resilience coaching techniques. The outcome is the leaders are better able to deliver organisational strategy and coach their team members when their resilience lags (read more here).

Building Resilience workshopBuilding Resilience Workshop

Team members and specialists learn how to bounce back from difficult organisation and life events, such as significant change, setbacks and hardship. The outcome is they are able to resist stressful experiences impacting on their job productivity and stay calm and healthy (read more here).

Mental Strength training

Mental Strength Training

Mental Strength training helps people keep task-focused and persistent. Mental Strength training teaches the process and tools to remain composed under pressure and less vulnerable to emotional slumps at work and at home (read more here).