‘A diamond is a chunk of coal that is made good under pressure.’
– Henry Kissinger
CEO and author Dane Jensen posed a question to over a thousand people: ‘What’s the most pressure you’ve ever been under?’
The answers people gave described how unique their experiences of pressure were.
Think about a heart surgeon and a swimmer training for the Olympics.
The pressure that comes from performing a high-risk surgery differs from the pressure of securing a medal at the Olympics.
And yet these two (different) experiences of pressure are tied together by common factors: importance, uncertainty, and volume.
These three factors, common to ALL kinds of pressure, combine to form the ‘pressure equation’ – pressure = importance × uncertainty × volume.
Importance has to do with feeling deeply invested in the outcome of something. If you were a heart surgeon, for example, the success of a surgical procedure would be very important to you, thereby creating some kind of pressure.
Experiencing uncertainty over how a thriller might end is likely to arouse excitement. Uncertainty over your job (should your company start downsizing), however, is likely to create pressure because that job is important to you and you don’t know if you’ll be able to hold on to it.
Volume refers to the amount (volume) of important and uncertain tasks, events, and information you are confronted with on a daily basis. Having multiple responsibilities and inputs (emails, messages, social media notifications) vying for your time and attention can invoke feelings of overwhelm, resulting in the build-up of pressure.
Here is how the pressure equation comes into play:
You perceive the outcome of a situation to be important – you experience pressure.
Combined with uncertainty, that pressure intensifies.
Combined with volume, that pressure becomes relentless.
Now, it is important to note that pressure and stress aren’t the same.
A die-hard rugby fan might experience stress when watching his favourite team play. However, the pressure is on the rugby players actually participating in the game and influencing its outcome.
Pressure differs from other emotional states (like stress) in that it requires action: You need to do something.
Being that pressure is an internal experience, you can choose how to respond to it.
First, you need to identify what type of pressure you’re experiencing.
Pressure can either be:
- Short term – known as ‘peak pressure moments’, short-term pressure moments have a beginning and an end. Once the moment has passed, so too does the pressure. Peak pressure moments typically come from speeches, exams, and races.
- Long term – ‘long-haul pressure moments’ can either lead to a peak pressure moment or just exist. Long-haul pressure builds gradually as more and more sources of pressure are added on.
Dealing with these two kinds of pressure requires different approaches.
In The Power of Pressure, Dane Jenson lays out these approaches:
Dealing with Peak Pressure Moments
- Importance: look at what’s not at stake
Focusing too much on the stakes during peak pressure moments can be stifling. Instead, look at what’s not at stake. Doing so will ensure that you’re not placing undue importance on something and losing sight of the bigger picture.
Irrespective of the outcome, there are things you will still have, such as the love of your family and friends and your health.
- Uncertainty: take direct action
When experiencing peak pressure uncertainty, focus on the things you can control, blocking out the things you can’t.
Placing your focus on things out of your control increases the uncertainty of the situation. Rather concentrate on making progress (however small) on the things within your control.
- Volume: eliminate distractions
In peak pressure moments, it is important to eliminate distractions, which ultimately add to things demanding time and attention.
Anything that isn’t directly related to your performance must be put away.
Dealing with Long-haul Pressure
- Importance: connect with why it is so important to you
You can manage pressure over the long haul by connecting to why you are doing something in the first place. Why is it so important to you?
When you are able to see how your daily actions are connected to what matters the most to you, you will be able to remain committed over the long haul.
- Uncertainty: embrace uncertainty
The future is uncertain; trying to curb uncertainty about the future is a losing battle. Instead, aim to embrace uncertainty.
The best approach involves a combination of two ideas that make up the ‘paradox of uncertainty’.
The first idea is to accept that you can’t really know exactly what the future holds.
The second idea is to trust that everything will work out as it should.
- Volume: refuel, recover, and exercise
If your body isn’t fueled, rested, and in good shape, it will not be able to keep up. Prioritising your nutrition, sleep, and exercise provides you with the energy and well-being you need to tackle all your responsibilities over the long haul.
Often, our bodies’ default response to pressure hinders us from effectively responding to pressure.
When that happens, we are unable to harness pressure for peak performance.
Yes. Pressure doesn’t have to be the enemy; it can be an ally.
Would you like to utilize pressure to enhance your performance be it at work, in business, or even in relationships with loved ones?
Drop me an email at email@example.com or WhatsApp me if this is something that interests you.
I will connect with you over a no-strings-attached discovery call to discuss the various approaches we can take.
From my heart to yours,