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Pressure Is a Powerful Force

Do You Really Perform Better Under Pressure?

Pressure is a powerful force. It is probably one of the most significant drivers of negative behavior that we encounter. Today, we are going to start exploring why that is true.

Let’s start with the premise that that the lack of understanding and inability to deal with pressure causes people to fail.

The typical lifestyle today is filled with pressure that is so invasive and extensive that most people accept constant pressure as the norm. This acceptance is dangerous because of its insidious effect. People begin to believe that they perform better when under pressure.

The Bottom-of-the-Ninth

Pressure is a Powerful Force
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We all know the story.

It’s the seventh game of the World Series – bottom of the ninth inning. There’s a man on first and your team is down by one run.

The power hitter on your team steps up to the plate. He leads the team in hits and home runs with a batting average well over .300.  He calmly sizes up the opposing pitcher, a star reliever who throws nothing but heat.

The pitcher looks to the catcher and rejects the called for pitch. For a moment, the pitcher and the batter stare at each other, suspended in the moment. Then the pitcher winds up and releases the pitch.

The batter swings and the crack of the bat coming into contact with the ball echoes around the stadium. It’s a long, low fly ball into left field and beyond. The left fielder runs backward, slamming his back against the outfield wall as he makes a leap for the ball. The ball sails over his glove and into the stands three rows up.

It’s a game winning home run!

The crowd erupts, as the hometown hero makes his way around the bases. As he comes to home plate, he is surrounded by his jubilant teammates. The clutch hitter has come through and has won the game despite the odds against him. The story of this moment will live on for generations.

It’s a great story, and the times that it has actually happened remain sharp and clear in our collective memories.

It doesn’t matter the sport. It could just as easily have been a Hail Mary pass in the last second of the fourth quarter of a playoff game, an overtime goal in the finals of the World Cup or a buzzer beating jump shot in the NBA finals.

Such triumphant moments remain etched into our consciousness. They create the myth of how we operate in the world when it comes to our own personal “bottom-of-the-ninth” situations.

Unfortunately, it is a myth that is fundamentally false because, it is based on a lie.

Pressure Brings Out the Worst

People do not always rise to the occasion and emerge victorious. In fact, to accept the idea that we perform better under pressure is not only false, it is dangerous.

NO ONE . . . from the sports hero down to the common man operates better under pressure. We simply like to believe that it is true because of the intense excitement such memories of game winning touchdowns or home-run hits create and continue to affect us long after they have happened. But . . . reality is very different. Those are once-in-a-lifetime events, not the norm.

Pressure actually brings out the worst in us. When operating under intense pressure, we are much more likely to flub, falter, and drop the ball. We fall into rigid, linear and non-creative thinking and are more likely act on impulse and make random decisions, devoid of rational thought.

We look for safe alternatives and defer to tradition and consensus. When we need to be our most creative and flexible, we ignore innovation and take the easy way out. When we are intensely focused on the need to succeed and terrified with the thought of failure, we revert to behaviors that promise safety and relief.

Statistics bear this out. Longitudinal studies have looked at how batters in major league baseball have performed in post-season games compared to regular season games. The results are fascinating and can be life-changing.

Statistics for multiple seasons show that not only do batters perform more poorly in post-season play, they have an almost infinitesimal chance of creating game winning plays on a regular basis.

In other words, on any given night in post-season play a player has a reasonable chance of getting a game winning hit. However, this chance is always less than that which occurs during a regular season game and is never, ever repeatable. The bottom line is that the myth of the clutch hitter is just that – a myth.

Myth of the Clutch Hitter

This myth exerts an almost irresistible attractive force. It makes people believe that they are somewhat superhuman; that they can walk through the fire, persevere, and win in the end regardless of the odds.

It leads otherwise normal people to believe that they have an innate talent that allows them to grab victory from the jaws of defeat. Unfortunately, they are dead wrong.

Just like hitters in baseball, they have a nearly zero chance of coming up with a game winning solution with moments to spare. In nearly every case, the belief in better performance under pressure only produces one thing – failure.

Recognize Your Own Fallibility

The only sure way to face and succeed under pressure is to recognize your own fallibility. You are not superman, nor do you need super powers to succeed.

Understand the power of pressure, which comes from a fear of failure. Acknowledge it, prepare for it, and learn to deal with it effectively.

Consistently successful people do not believe that they are clutch hitters. They understand the pressure they are under, as well as their own failings. They are well prepared at all times and take steps to stay on course regardless of the pressure and, as a result, they consistently do their best.

Pressure is a part life. It is ever-present in the pressure pot of the 21st Century.

Sad to say, some people foolishly create and embrace pressure, believing that they perform better when the heat is on. They may win some of the time, but they also fail, time and time again.

Successful people, on the other hand, understand that while pressure is a part of life, it can be managed through understanding, preparation, and developing techniques that minimize its negative effects. As a result, their performance is consistently at optimal levels.

We will discuss techniques to help you deal with pressure in a future posting. Stay tuned!

Points to Remember

Psychological pressure is a powerful force that can cause great damage if left unchecked.

  • Pressure arises when a person has to perform a task at a certain level of competence or face negative consequences.
  • Pressure has the ability to negatively affect all areas of life – professional, personal and academic.
  • The fear of failure when under performance pressure is strong enough to cause a person to operate at less than optimum levels.
  • The myth of the “clutch hitter” who performs better under pressure is just that – a myth.
  • Pressure does not make a person perform better – pressure makes a person perform worse.
  • People who successfully deal with pressure develop and implement coping strategies that mitigate the negative effects that pressure causes.
  • Failing to understand and deal with the effects of pressure is what causes people to fail.

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