How to Keep Your Cool in Pressure-Packed Situations

In July of 2020, more than four million people savored the chance to watch live Major League Baseball on the opening night of a historic 60 game series.

Due to the intensity of the abbreviated coronavirus season, each game matters immensely. By winning the first game, a team instantly has nearly a 3-game lead over the team that it beats. With the number of season games shrinking by half, every homerun and strikeout is intensified. Only those teams that can perform well under pressure can pull out a short season victory.

Many people in the business world are facing a similar pressure. 

Corporate teams have been forced to adopt tighter timelines, operate with a slimmer margin, or do more with fewer teammates. How will you respond to that pressure? And how can you encourage those around you to avoid panic or stress?

Here are three tips to guide you through moments of high intensity:

1. Create a Prioritization Strategy

Make a list of monthly tasks and then assess each item. 

Ask questions like: is this item important to me? Will it relieve pressure or clear space in my day? Does it move our team forward? If not, look at delegating, postponing, or eliminating this task. 

2. Focus on the Fundamentals

You never really become better in the moment. 

In moments of immense stress, it is easy to make foolish decisions or go for the “Hail Mary” option. With so much uncertainty, playing a wild card can be a costly mistake. Instead of looking for a magic bullet, focus more on the most basic, time-tested strategies for success. Whether this is following up on prospects, or just a willingness to make the high-percentage “predictable” move again and again, stick with strategies that have historically brought success. 

3. Change How You Think About Pressure

“Pressure is a privilege.”

Tennis great Billie Jean King has been credited with this quote, and there is a reason it hits home for so many.

One of the most daunting parts about working in tense conditions is the temptation to psyche yourself out. Sports psychologists help athletes overcome this by using visualization of positive outcomes. Before a match or competition, top players coin short phrases describing who they are at their best: “I am consistent, I am intimidating, and I never give up without a fight.” When stressful moments come, athletes don’t focus on the worst (“don’t strike out, don’t strike out”) but consciously visualize success. When confidence flows, players are more likely to rise to their potential.

Another way to visualize success is by breaking a mammoth task into manageable pieces so you can actually “see” how the work could be completed. Best-selling author and business coach Dave Anderson says people can face overwhelming situations by breaking their response into manageable pieces:  

“More often than not, we worry about some imaginary catastrophe that never happens, and that tends to render us powerless,” Anderson said. “Focus on one aspect of the task at a time, instead of looking at it in its totality. If you make a list of every step and use a “paint-by-numbers” approach, you’ll be fine.”

Resistance Training Builds Strength

Whether it is demands from your boss or supply chain obstructions, every person has obstacles that threaten to derail them from success.

But ultimately, stressful situations can push your performance to levels you could never reach otherwise. As University of Tulsa psychologist Jennifer Ragsdale says, “without challenge comes boredom. A life with zero stress is not a life worth living.”

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