The pressure, and often times, the stress of the holiday season isn’t something that always makes us feel ‘physically’ good. Getting things organized, kids ready, food prepared, etc., can at times be overwhelming. I see it in myself and I see it in some of the pressure situations my clients face. For instance, a coach of a major-league sports team that I used to coach would get physically ill before every one of the eighty games his team played in a season.
This level of physical discomfort is one of the reasons why many individuals become avoidant when it comes to pressure. They either avoid pressure situations entirely or they don’t fully commit to their task and under-perform.
The problem with the default behavior of avoidance is that we miss the opportunity that pressure situations present: to adapt and get better.
This is why competition can be healthy and important, even when it’s uncomfortable. U.S. car manufacturers do not improve the quality of their automobiles without the pressure of competing with Japanese and European car makers. Pressure creates an ‘adaptive opportunity’ like no other and as such, for the wise individual, is something that should be welcomed and approached.
Surprisingly, the holidays can be same. It is an opportunity for us to get better at being human beings and being in human relationships. Can we be patient with an extended family member who won’t stop talking about the presidential election? Or can we have empathy for our partner who gets triggered by certain family members or the holiday season in general and gets a bit grumpy? Can we have compassion for them as opposed to judgement?
In this way, pressure represents an irony: what feels acutely uncomfortable in the moment, can also make us better in the long term. It is an opportunity to practice. There is no better example of this irony of pressure than Oprah Winfrey. In her first job as an anchor woman in Baltimore, Oprah was unable to manage the pressure of her first big assignment and, in a very public way, was fired. While she was not able to handle pressure effectively in that moment, she obviously used this pressure situation to learn and get better for future moments.
According to Oprah, “Not all my memories of Baltimore are fond ones. But I do have some fond memories of Baltimore, because it grew me into a real woman. I came in naive, unskilled, not really knowing anything about the business — or about life. And Baltimore grew me up.”
I want you to think about Oprah as you face your next pressure moment or situation and commit to taking the ‘long view’ of pressure. Your pressure situations won’t feel comfortable in the moment and they may make you want to consider avoiding them completely, but keep in mind that they also represent a valuable adaptive opportunity.
About the author: JP Pawliw-Fry is an expert on emotional intelligence, leadership, and performing under pressure. He is the co-author of the New York Times bestselling book, Performing Under Pressure: The Science Of Doing Your Best When It Matters and coaches businesses, individuals, and professional athletes on improving their performance.