How to prepare for high pressure moments

Christoph Burkhardt Uncategorized

Imagine you have this big project due in a few weeks. You will have to live up to your potential in that moment. You need to be prepared. This moment, it might be a presentation for senior executives or an exam for a certification that you really want to get. Whatever it is, this moment counts.

We have more of these moments of high performance throughout our career than we realize. When we prepare for them our minds are taking over. Since we are preparing for extraordinary moments of total focus our minds are under stress and do all kinds of things in auto pilot mode.

People typically tend to prefer one of two cognitive strategies in this auto pilot mode:

One thing that many people do is to imagine the moment when everything will be over and done. How good it will feel to get out of this high pressure situation. Usually this group of people ends up feeling pretty good in the status quo but they are at risk to not prepare as much as they could.

The other group of people focuses on the worst case scenario, everything that could possibly go wrong in this moment, everything that needs to be avoided. These people as you might have guessed end up with a much higher stress level but also they end up being mentally prepared for whatever could possibly go wrong.

Two types of people…

Well, you might have heard that there are two types of people. Those who categorize the world in two types of people and those who don’t do that.

As excelling leaders we don’t think in two types, so of course there are many more. And one small group of people got it right. These are the people who excel in situations of high pressure, they live up to their potential because they do one thing right:

They don’t think about the good feelings attached to being done. They also don’t get stressed out about all possible worst case scenarios. They shift their focus from the outcome to the process.

They think about the next step. If you think about this next step try not to focus on what needs to be done to get to the outcome, think about the next step you can take to be prepared.

If your mind keeps wondering think about all the steps you are going to take next to be prepared, don’t think about the outcome, the result of your work. Focus on the process, the way to get there.

I’m not a big fan of sports metaphors but this one just works: If you’re an olympic athlete preparing for the run of your life you can’t think about how good it will feel to cross the finish line. Even if you imagine to be the winner in this race, visualizing a goal will only get you so far. Unfortunately you will have to take literally thousands of steps to get to your goal and your focus should be on the next one.

At the same time if you focus on the possibility of falling down, breaking your leg or any other worst case scenario by the law of self fulfilling prophecies you increase the likelihood of these scenarios becoming true. You’ll also pump too much fear into your system. That won’t help you cross the finish line.

The best thing you can do is – given you know your goal – to forget about it and spend your mental energy focusing on the steps that will get you there. Starting now.

So what are you going to do next?