The 3 Secrets to Performing Under Pressure Successfully

Performing Under Pressure Successfully

It's all on the line. You've worked years for this moment. All the time spent learning, practicing and perfecting your craft and now you have 5 minutes to give the show of a lifetime and impress the judges sitting in the audience. 

The pressure is truly on! 

As you enter the arena, you hope the audience don't see that you're sweating. You hope they don't notice the dark circles under your eyes from a sleepless night worrying about how this performance will go. You've been thinking about it all week. Sometimes you envision failure, sometimes it's success but the mere thought of being on stage sends your pulse racing and brings butterflies to your stomach. 

We've all been in this predicament. Whether it's a product we're selling, a match we're attempting to win, an important speech we have to deliver or an interview for a new job, pressure situations are unavoidable, even in our tame, modern world. 

Ironically, in practice or rehearsal, when the pressure's off, we deliver a near perfect performance. However, when we believe it matters, when we think everything is on the line, our nerves attack and prevent us from relaxing and letting everything flow. 

If, like many, this happens to you regularly, then you need to keep reading. I'm going to reveal the 3 secrets to performing successfully while under pressure. Read, practice and apply this knowledge and important meetings, matches, performances, interviews or exams will soon become just another opportunity to display your greatness.  

1. Preparation 

Consider this, we only have conscious control over 2% - 4% of our actions, decisions and behavior in any given situation. The other 96% - 98% is controlled subconsciously.

This means that, when faced with a pressure situation, we have very little ability to directly influence the outcome or how we perform. 

On the surface, this may seem a reason to be even more nervous about these situations. However, with deeper analysis, this statistic not only makes sense, it also liberates you when having to perform under pressure.  

Think about it, if you did have 100% (or even 80%) conscious control over your actions, decisions and behavior then you would perform exactly as you pleased. There would be no forgetting of lines, singing out of tune or slicing the shot, because you are in full control. However, your mind doesn't work that way. The control that you can develop (96% - 98%) is exerted through your subconscious.

What does this mean?

Firstly, you should never feel nervous about performing under pressure. After all, there's not a whole lot you can do (in the moment) to affect the performance - I mean, why get stressed about a measly 2% - 4%?   

Secondly, focus on where you can make an impact.

There's a brilliant quote from Muhammad Ali and it goes like this,

'The fight is won or lost far away from witnesses - behind the lines, in the gym, and out there on the road, long before I dance under those lights.'

He's talking about the importance of preparation. This, combined with experience, is where the fight, pitch, talk, exam, interview is won. Because what we're bringing into a pressure situation is so much more important (96% to 4%) than what we do in a pressure situation. Therefore, all our attention should go into making sure our preparation is comprehensive as possible. 

Here's an example to give you an idea.

Last month I faced my own challenge to perform successfully under pressure. I was invited to speak at Inspire'D Stage in London, giving a talk with the theme, 'If you had 10 minutes to share your wisdom with the world, what would you say?' 
It was the biggest personal development talk I'd done to date. Previous to that, I'd spoken a few times at some Meet Up groups, made YouTube videos (yes, despite only talking to a camera they are surprisingly good public speaking preparation) and gave a best man speech at my brother's wedding.
I tell you this so you can gauge my experience at public speaking. Although I'm not a complete beginner, I'm far from being a honed professional. As a result, I didn't have a huge amount of experience to see me through. Instead, I had to rely on preparation.
Below is the recorded footage of my talk. You'll notice that it lasted a little over 10 minutes. 

Want to know how many hours preparation went into delivering that short 10 minute speech?
10!!!! That was the total amount of time spent conceptualising, writing and then rehearsing (over 5 hours) the talk. This should give you some idea of the length of time needed to perform successfully under pressure in a discipline you are not heavily experienced in. You have to get to the point, and put in as many hours as necessary, to really feel ready. 


2. Letting Go  

Even the best preparation in the world can be sabotaged by anxiety in the days and hours leading up to an important event, speech, exam or match.

Thoughts or failure, or even just thoughts about the event (neither negative or positive), can be enough to trigger a nervous response and raise your anxiety levels. You may try to combat this feeling by telling yourself that it will go well and that you're a champion, but by this time, if you're feeling the anxiety, it's already too late. You're caught in a vicious cycle and the more you think about it (whether positively or negatively) the more nervous energy you draw in.

To perform under pressure successfully you need to be calm and relaxed enough for everything to flow. Spend the days and hours preceding a pressure situation frequently experiencing a high anxiety state and it's more than likely that, when it comes to the all-important moment, you'll be too wound up to give your best. 

To avoid this happening, you must become a master of letting go and living in the now. 

Rarely are your fears routed in reality (what's happening right now!). They are always based upon something that happened in the past or something you fear happening in the future. Therefore, if you live in the present, you cannot be afraid (unless you're confronted with a imminently dangerous situation). 

Easier said than done, I know, but mastering this skill is absolutely essential, to not only performing under pressure, but also for a balanced and happy mind. 

Doing so requires a tremendous amount of vigilance and patience. You have to keep track of your thinking and be aware of the moments when your mind starts to dwell on the upcoming pressure situation. Of course, if you're directly preparing for the event then your mind needs to be engaged on the subject. However, when you're travelling, eating, walking and working on other activities, you have to completely switch off

If you do catch yourself dwelling on what lies ahead, and can feel the anxiety rising, then remind yourself to LET GO. It will take time to master, and nobody can do it for you, but keep practicing and the fear will eventually clear. It has to. Your thoughts are the only things keeping it alive!  

3. Mind-Set

When performing under pressure it's best to adopt the mind-set of a master in your field (or any other field that inspires you). Ponder these questions,

  • How would a master feel in the moments leading up to the talk, match or pitch?
  • How would they carry themselves or use their voice when speaking?
  • What would their body language look like when moving?
  • How would they feel the night before the important event? 
  • What kind of energy do they bring to what they're doing?

Remember, we're talking about an absolute master. Someone who has been there and done it a thousand times or more and has a proven track record of getting results. Take some time to put yourself in this position and then answer the questions from that perspective. 

For example, does a master tremble with nerves the night before an important event and find it impossible to sleep? No, they've done it a thousand times before and believe in themselves to such an extent that they feel calm

You now have a direction to follow and a standard by which you can measure yourself against. 

It doesn't matter if you're a complete beginner and, initially, struggle to meet this standard. It's always there for you to aim towards and prevent your mind from drifting into negative thinking.

Remember, you're not faking it, you're becoming it. Act as I am and I will be! 

Facebook Comments