“Pressure, pushing down on me,
pressing down on you, no man ask for.
Under pressure that burns a building down,
splits a family in two, puts people on streets.”
Under Pressure, by Queen
Know anything about the feeling of being crushed under the weight of hard decisions or trying to live up to big expectations?
One example: Back when I worked at Precision Nutrition, I remember an instance where a huge project was dropped in my lap. Something that would usually take a solid two weeks needed to be done in less than one.
“Oh, and no pressure”, they said, “but we’re a bit behind on our revenue goals, so this pretty much has to be a success. We need your best work…there’s a lot of money on the line here.”
“Awesome,” I said. “No problem. I thrive under pressure!”
Pacing commenced. Panic ensued. I may or may not have screamed into a pillow.
As a writer, my process is everything. and I usually have a very specific, systematic approach to projects like this.
A routine that helps me feel comfortable. A system that helps me produce my best work.
But there was no time for that now.
I had mountains of marketing documents to absorb. And I had three days to turn all of that into a clear, compelling message.
I was feeling the pressure.
And while the energy and effort doing the work was definitely challenging, I found the pressure attached to it even more challenging.
Because early in the week, a war raged within my mind:
Just do your best work—don’t think about how much is on the line here. No! I have to think about that…because it’s just a fact. Crap, I HAVE to produce something really good here. AHHHH.
As you probably know, the more I got ‘in my head’, the more difficult it was to focus, be creative, and do good work without being distracted by the importance of the outcome.
Which got me thinking: There’s got to be a better way to deal with pressure.
Face high-pressure situations with confidence (3 ideas)
As I took a step back, I started to think about how I could do this without losing my mind—and without lying to myself. In other words, I wasn’t looking for empty platitudes like “it will all be okay”, because the fact is, it may not end up okay.
It IS possible that I could bomb this project and it could have very real consequences.
So rather than act like that wasn’t the case, I wanted ideas that would help me face that truth—while still responding to the pressure in a helpful way.
Here’s what I came up with:
Idea #1: Remember you’re going to die.
Morbid much? Nah, here’s what I mean. Reminding ourselves of our mortality puts things into perspective.
Someday I’m gonna die.
And the thing about dead people? They don’t care if they aced that big project—or bombed it.
This may or may not be helpful for you. On its own, it’s not that helpful for me.
Cause, yes, while I get this idea in theory, we still have to take some things seriously in life, even if we know it’s not a true matter of life and death.
But perspective is always a good place to start.
So as I sat in my office trying not to have a meltdown earlier this week, I reminded myself: All things considered, this isn’t that big of a deal.
Was this, alone, enough to melt the mental struggle I was dealing with? No.
So I moved on to this:
Idea #2: Trust yourself—and focus on the process.
After getting in check with my mortality, I realized the underlying pressure of what was at stake was still making it hard for me to focus.
So, I reminded myself of one thing and asked myself one question:
Reminder: They hired me. I wouldn’t be here if they didn’t want me here. They think I’m qualified and smart enough to handle this…so who am I to think differently? Trust yourself.
Question: Do I have at least a decent idea of how to do this well? Answer: Yes, I’d done something very similar many times.
Sure, there’s more on the line right now—but that has nothing to do with the process.
So I shifted my focus: From freaking out about the outcome to pouring my energy into executing the proven process I’ve used to produce high-quality work time and time before.
The fact is, I don’t have any control over the outcome because no matter what I write, people still have to choose to buy.
All I can do is produce the best end product possible and walk away knowing I did everything I could. (“Left it all on the court”, for those of you who appreciate sports metaphors.)
This helped—a lot—but I still found myself getting pulled back into the mental warfare.
So I knew there was one more thing I needed to do…
Idea #3: “You are not your fucking khakis.”
The clothes we wear? The titles we carry at work? The praise of others? The amount of money in your bank account? Your house? Your car?
Those are not who you are. And it’s not who I am, either.
Those are an illusion of “self” created by our culture.
Think of it this way: Let’s say I bombed this project and got fired…would I stop being me?
I’d still be me, I just wouldn’t have produced something that someone else deemed as “good enough.”
Same with clothes.
Same with cars, houses, or any other material object.
Things, titles, accolades—are not YOU.
Check out what the late spiritual philosopher Anthony De Mello said about this:
“When you really understand this, no criticism can affect you. No flattery or praise can affect you either. When someone says, “You’re a great guy,” what is he talking about? He’s talking about “me”, he’s not talking about “I.” “I” is neither big nor small. “I” is neither successful nor a failure. It is none of those labels. These things come and go. These things depend on criteria society establishes.”
Do I enjoy my job? Yes.
Would I prefer to keep it? Yes.
Do I hope that the words I’ve written help my company reach its revenue goals? Of course.
But if that’s not how it works out…will it change who I am at the core?
Same goes for you.
The key: Your identity has to be anchored in something that gives you confidence and hope.
For me, that’s knowing I was created by a loving God who has a very specific mission for me while I’m on this earth.
A God who knows that adversity is a powerful tool for forging us into stronger people.
And as long as I continually aim to seek and follow that mission, the outcome doesn’t matter.
Where does your hope come from? Your answer to that question is important.
What should you do with all this?
First, know this: Even after doing all of ^^this, I still had to take action in the face of fear. In my experience, if you wait until there is no fear to take action… you probably never will.
The goal isn’t necessarily to eliminate the fear; it’s to anchor yourself in truth that propels you to take action in spite of its presence.
And second: Reminding myself of these 3 things wasn’t something I did once and then felt overflowing confidence.
I had to keep reminding myself of these things throughout the process.
Which brings us back to you.
There’s probably something within these 3 ideas you needed to hear.
Something you can take and apply to whatever situation you’re facing right now in your life where you’re letting the pressure of what’s at stake be a place of mental or physical distress.
From parenting to work to your health and fitness.
Use these 3 ideas to face that stuff with truth.
Like all things, it takes practice. It won’t just magically “solve” your struggles.
But, if you make it a habit of running through these 3 things when you’re facing something challenging, I’m confident you will find a sense of calm even in the most chaotic (and high pressure) of situations.
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