Sometimes work or school can get super high-stakes and it can become difficult not to crack underneath all the pressure. You either have a lot riding on a presentation, have too many tasks to juggle, have a demanding boss or professor, or feel like everything is dependent on this one position to help you move forward — whatever the situation, you've found yourself in an atmosphere where the stress is high and the tension is thick. While a lot of us would be tempted to go home and complain to anyone willing to listen how tough things currently are, there are a select few of us that do something unimaginable: They weather it. And not only that — not only do they not buckle under the strain, but they thrive in it.
Superhumans, right? Maybe not quite. Every single one of us has the potential and the ability not to choke when the pressure gets turned on, just some of us might need more practice and coaching than others. With a little bit of research a game plan can get drafted, and once you have the tools to hold your weight under high-stakes, you can totally ride it through. Below are seven tips on how not to crack when you're under pressure. Remember: You've got this.
1. Be Hella Prepared
High pressure situations sometimes can't be avoided, but they become ten times as worse if you head into them unprepared. Just think about it: How would you feel leading a meeting without a lick of prep work, or diving into a presentation without running through it a couple of times in front of a mirror? The more practice and preparation you put into a task, the stronger you'll be under high pressure because you'll know what to expect.
Minda Zetlin, speaker and journalist, told career-improvement site Inc., "Olympic medals are not won during three minutes in front of the judges, but in thousands of hours of practice beforehand. Being as thoroughly prepared as I can be helps neutralize the pressure before it even hits." The more ready you are, the less pressure you feel.
2. Change The Perspective Of The Moment
The pressure you feel is mostly in your head: You decide how high stakes something is, and you determine how much the outcome can make or break you. Because of that, you can reframe the situation to alleviate some of the pressure and keep your head above water.
Celeste Chaney, editor-in-chief of career-development site G5 suggested, "What can feel like the most important moment of your life, the center of the universe, and focal point of everyone in attendance, is merely a blip in the grand scheme of life. Pressures are perceived; reframing the situation provides context that can greatly improve performance."
If you're applying to grad schools, keep in mind that if you don't get into your first choice, you can always try again next year. Or if your presentation at work doesn't go as well as you're hoping you will, it's good practice and will go better the next time. Reframe the life-and-death circumstances of a situation and you won't crack as easily under its pressure.
3. Don't Overthink It — Seriously, Don't
By overthinking a situation, you're taking away the brain power you need to perform and instead directing it towards something unnecessary, like nit-picking every move you're about to make. Your mental resources aren't infinite; if you use them in one area, you have too few to use in another (like the important task at hand.) So stop overthinking it, you're not doing yourself any favors!
According to psychotherapist and business writer Amy Morin at Forbes, "The fear of failure, or concern about making a bad decision, can cause us to overthink the situation. Professor Sian Beilock, and the author of Choke, has coined this as 'paralysis by analysis.' Overthinking can destroy our ability to perform at our full potential. In fact, overthinking while under pressure can cause us to fail when performing tasks that we’d normally consider to be relatively easy." The reason for this is because it depletes the mental resources we need to achieve our goals. Don't impair your ability to focus — pump the brakes on the over thinking.
4. Become Empowered, Not Discouraged
When you're under high pressure, try to feel empowered with the challenges rather than discouraged. See them as a hurdle you need to jump to grow, rather than the first domino in everything falling apart.
Mary Steinhardt, a professor of health behavior at the University of Texas in Austin, tells USA Today, "It's all about cognitive reframing...Learning to take responsibility and thinking about what you can do, rather than just how bad things are, is an important factor in becoming more resilient." Take control of the situation and focus on what you can handle and then what you can learn to handle/ work around. Don't concentrate on how easily things can spiral out of control, but rather focus on what aspects you're on top of.
5. Stay Committed, Even When Things Are Going Downhill
Even as things are going downhill, make sure you stay on top of the high pressure situation by continuing to try to have a n influence on the outcome, and not becoming passive and letting it bury you under.
Science writer Jeff Wise at Psychology Today said, "Commitment means that even when your situation is deteriorating you stay plugged in to your goal. Instead of withdrawing, you connect to the people and events around you." Even when things get tough, don't lose sight of your goal. Remember: A stumble isn't the end. Keep working until it's done.
6. Actively Seek Out Challenges
To become better at weather high stress situations, actively seek out challenges that will let you practice on how to keep your cool and focus when the stakes are high. After all, the more you practice the more comfortable you become.
Wise said, "Life doesn't have to be free of worries to be pleasurable and fulfilling. Stress is natural and it provides an opportunity to grow and develop. The key to mastering this mindset is to develop a sense of confidence in your abilities. You can do this by getting in the habit of pushing your personal envelope."
Set yourself some challenging goals that get slightly harder every time you reach them — this will build your tolerance over what you can handle. If it's deadlines that stress you out, set them on everyday tasks and see how quickly you can finish them. If it's presenting that gets your palms sweaty, ask your family if you can practice in front of them, and slowly grow the group larger by incorporating more members or asking your friends to join the crowd. Put yourself in front of what you're afraid of.
7. Practice Under Pressure
Similar to seeking out challenges, practice doing tasks under pressure to get used to the high stakes. University of Chicago psychology professor Sian Beilock told CBS News, "Close the gap between practice and competition. Meaning, practice under stress. This gets you used to the pressure, so the high-stakes situation is not something you fear." If you're nervous about leading an upcoming meeting, run through your agenda a couple of times in front of your roommate. If you're not comfortable speaking up with your ideas during meetings, join a book club or a social group where you have to quip in with your thoughts.
And, at the end of the day, as with any habit: The more you practice, the easier it'll be.