Performance Under Pressure

by Marc Winitz

How is that a small group of people are capable of performing under immense pressure, when the majority of others seemingly fail? Performing under pressure is one of the most valuable lessons learned in a martial arts setting simply due to the number of opportunities a student is exposed to. Competition. Teaching. Being critiqued in front of others. All of these activities happen regularly so the process of performance (in a physical sense) is ever present and constantly contended with. That said, there are a lot of lessons that can be learned and transferred from training on the dojo floor to everyday life as it relates to performing well (not perfectly) in pressure situations.

“Pressure” is defined differently be each of us but we know it when we feel it. Sometimes the definition is situational. A condition one is facing may be “do or die” on a personal, business, financial or perhaps even a “life or death” matter. In other cases there are some that simply thrive and perform better by placing themselves in “pressure situations”. In all cases, those that perform well under pressure share some or all of the following strengths.

You Don’t Know Everything, But You Know A Lot
Most of the successful people I know (black belts or not) don’t pretend to know everything. But they are confident in themselves because they recognize they have accomplished success before and experienced achievement on some level. And they go to that place of success to give them confidence when taking on bigger challenges. To be sure, you have to put yourself out of your comfort zone to perform well under pressure. But those people that focus on their previous successes see themselves as a capable even in adverse conditions and draw on that for motivation and inspiration to deal with bigger problems or issues. And they can do it without having to be an expert on the topic at hand.

  • Draw on any of your successes in pressure situations as it breeds personal confidence.

See Yourself as Bigger Than You Are
Taking the first point a step further, one way of building confidence and managing pressure situations is too see yourself as bigger than you really are. I don’t mean a false sense of ability or cockiness (although many people can be cocky and successful in dealing with pressure situations). Sometimes you have to take on a challenge whether you, others or just the conventional thinking says you whether or not you are ready as I have written about here.  Either work to be in a place of authority and leverage that or put yourself in that place because you believe and can internalize your ability to succeed.

  • Visualize yourself being in control and managing difficult situations regardless of whether or not you think you have the ability to succeed.

Don’t Allow Yourself to Fail
Most top athletes have the attitude of not allowing themselves to fail in big matches or games. This notion carries over to most successful people in life and business that I have witnessed or known. I am not making the argument that there is a problem in failing and that you can’t learn from that. Let’s all agree on the conventional wisdom that you can benefit from adversity. But in pressure situations successful people do not see themselves failing at the task at hand. As a brown belt I vividly recall talking to a senior black belt who was a top international competitor. We talked about sparring theory, attack sequences, and approaches in the ring. And when we got done with that he told me that the number one reason he won virtually every match was that he knew coming into the ring he would not lose. He always visualized himself winning. And he rarely lost any matches.

  • Decide you will prevail in the situation you are facing and don’t lose sight of that.

This is a preliminary post on the topic of performing under pressure. I’ll be exploring this more over the next several months but I wanted to start the thought process at a high level.

I’d like to hear your thoughts on how you perform under pressure. What works for you? Thanks for training with me.

Photo credit courtesy of amycgx.

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