Performing Under Pressure… Not just for Olympic Athletes

We’ve just witnessed that Olympic athletes are under an immense amount of pressure to perform.  Every little factor and step leading up to their big events can have a major impact on their performance, especially when fractions of seconds can make or break their career.  Similarly, how one performs under pressure can play a vital role in the outcome of any professional position; whether it’s a client’s assets, the outcome of a legal case, or even a patient’s life on the line.

Regardless of the stakes, increasing your emotional intelligence and optimizing your ability to perform in high-pressure situations is a valuable skill to hone in on.  Whether you are a doctor, lawyer, or athlete, emotional intelligence experts JP Pawliw-Fry, and Bill Benjamin have outlined some tools and methods to increase your performance under pressure.

  • Recall you at your best

In Performing Under Pressure: The Science of Doing Your Best When it Matters Most, JP Pawliw-Fry notes that an athlete who keeps his or her muscle memory alive by thinking about their past actions that were successful, has a better chance of repeating those same actions in the next performance.  Conversely, if one thinks about anxiety they’ve experienced in a similar situation in the past, they are likely to experience it again.  Making a list of times you were successful in similar situations in the past, or simply recalling a time when you succeeded – did well on a test, made the game winning shot, or nailed a presentation, will help ensure you do it again.

  • Befriend the Moment

When NBA star LeBron James was asked how he would handle the pressure of going into the final game of the NBA Championships, he responded “There’s no pressure.  It’s going to be fun, a great game, I look forward to meeting the challenge.” He played an amazing game and won.  Seeing a pressure situation as a crisis or threat elicits fears of failure, impairs your memory, and spurs impulsive behavior.  Approaching the same situation as a challenge or opportunity – whether it’s to show off your best talents, learn, create, or problem solve – helps release adrenaline and dopamine resulting in increased energy and confidence to perform to the best of your ability.

  1.  Focus on the Mission

Staying focused on the mission, whether it is to play your best game of tennis, close a sale, or do well on a test, increasing your awareness and attention on the task at hand can help prevent distracting thoughts, as well as external thoughts.  Tuning into your senses can also help you stay in the moment and focus on the mission.  For a longer term task such as engineering an innovation, or writing a research paper, reiterating the mission can help you and your team stay on task.  There is no time like the present!

  1. Meditate and Breathe

Studies show that regularly practicing meditation and mindfulness can alter the white matter of your brain in a way that allows you to regulate your thoughts, behaviors and emotions more effectively.  Many Olympians, such as USA Olympic water polo player, utilize mindfulness to keep focused.  Merrill Moses was recently featured in a Forbes article explaining how mindfulness helped him lead the USA water polo team to success.  Pawliw-Fry explains that meditation can be performed a number of ways, so long as the three main components or: relaxation, mental imagery, and mindfulness are present.  He recommends practicing meditation for 30 minutes a day (or more) for a month, and then assessing your levels of stress and performance.

The next time the stakes are high, approach the situation with a few of the methods above to keep yourself focused, calm, and confident.  If you are interested in learning more pressure solutions, or hearing how your team can increase its emotional intelligence and performance in pressure situations, contact BigSpeak to bring in an expert for your next conference or event.

Amber M. is the Marketing Manager at BigSpeak.  To bring in an emotional intelligence expert for your next conference or event, contact BigSpeak at (805) 965-1400 or