by Positive Adventures Thu May 10 2018

You may have heard the terms “high pressure” and “stressful” used interchangeably, but the truth is that pressure and stress are completely different. Fortunately, learning to perform well under pressure can eliminate stress in both your professional and personal life.

First, it’s important to understand the distinction…

Pressure is the understanding that an outcome depends on your performance. Stress occurs when you lack the resources to handle demands. Basically, the inability to deliver and perform under pressure directly leads to stress. Read on to learn how to deliver when the heat is on!

The Theory of Challenge and Threat States

When we are under pressure and the stakes are high, we either go into a challenge state or a threat state. The difference is both mental and physiological. In the challenge state, we are mentally invigorated. Blood vessel constriction is decreased, resulting in better concentration and greater mental resources. In the threat state, we are fearful. Blood vessels constrict, leading to an inability to focus and make decisions.

Psychology professor Sian Beilock described the threat state as “paralysis by analysis”. Overthinking and fear of failure inhibits our ability to think clearly and make good decisions. When we fear failure and lose clarity, we cripple ourselves, leaving us incapable of performing to our full potential. This is the definition of stress, causing not only poor performance, but the many side effects of stress as well.

Sports psychologist Martin Turner works with athletes who regularly face enormous pressure. He says that “to get into a challenge state, the key is to increase levels of self-confidence, perceptions of control, and focus on success.” When facing pressure, there is little time to adjust, and thriving requires a full allocation of your resources. In high-pressure situations, your ability to perform directly coincides with your conditioning.

How to Deliver When the Pressure is on

There are 6 common traits that successful people display when facing pressure. The following traits allow them to enter a challenge state when the weight of the world is on their shoulders:

#1: Control. To deliver your best, identify the things you can control and focus your energy on those tasks. Worrying about things that are out of your control wastes resources and inhibits your ability to think clearly and be decisive. Attack the task in front of you with confidence and tenacity.

#2: Perspective. Identify pressure as a challenge to be met rather than a threat. Fear of a negative outcome will hinder your ability to deliver, so embrace the challenge with enthusiasm.

#3: Opportunity. Each challenge is an opportunity to grow and display your prowess. Those who can deliver view pressure as an opportunity to shine, allowing them to use all of their skills and knowledge to complete their objective.

#4: Analyze and Act. Your body and mind are affected by fear and doubt, which prevents you from giving your best. Analyze your objective, identify your goals, and act to achieve them.

#5: Visualize. Those who are exceptional in the face of adversity never question the outcome of their performance. They visualize past success, and channel that courage into the task ahead.

#6: Intention. Every great athlete, when facing tremendous pressure, has had one thing in common: intention. The challenge is not merely a task to be completed, but a step to a greater goal. Whether it’s financial success, recognition from colleagues, or stability for you and your family, identifying your intentions allows you to undertake even the most daunting tasks with a motivation that supersedes the task itself.

Those who perform under pressure are confident, determined, and focused on the task ahead without fear of failure. But almost everyone has experienced failure in the face of great pressure. Fear of failure, lack of intention, and loss of focus can leave even the most competent among us ill-equipped to perform. Conditioning is the only way that we can give our best in the face of adversity.

How to Condition Yourself to Enter a Challenge State

Marathon runners need to train before they can compete in a grueling race. Politicians rehearse over and over before debating an opponent. Doctors spend hundreds of hours in residency before performing surgery. In the same way, our bodies and minds need to be conditioned to respond to pressure. Remember: the inability to perform under pressure leads to stress.

Fortunately, there are several ways to condition yourself to perform at peak capacity and avoid stress. Many companies have successfully used corporate retreats to help equip their team to enter a challenge state, reduce stress levels, and more fully engage them in company culture.

Here are 8 ways to condition your body and mind for performance:

#1 – Cultivate Positivity – A positive mindset is essential when facing a challenge. Our brains can be wired and rewired to elicit certain responses. The more you practice a positive mindset, the more naturally that mindset occurs.

#2 – Develop Rapid Analysis – One of the keys to delivering on the spot is the ability to quickly analyze the challenge before you. Keeping your mind engaged with mentally stimulating activities increases critical thinking.

#3 – Seek Clarity – One reason for failing to deliver is a lack of clarity and direction. Whether through analysis or consulting with a colleague, gaining clarity will allow you to analyze and prioritize the work set before you.

#4 – Sustain Energy – The ability to maintain physical, emotional, and mental stamina is often crucial in high-pressure situations. Exercise, rest, and a healthy diet can make all the difference when you need to operate at peak performance.

#5 – Claim Your Mornings – When you’re pressed, there’s no time to adjust your attitude. Starting each day on a positive and productive note can help you rise to meet any challenge with optimism and tenacity.

#6 – Seek Challenges – Like physical training, performance under pressure increases with practice. Regularly seeking opportunities to challenge yourself improves critical thinking and reduces fear and nervousness in difficult situations.

#7 – Learn from Failure – Embracing your fears is the best way to overcome them, and that includes the fear of failure. Rather than dwelling on past (or potential future) defeat, utilize each setback as a learning experience. This equips you to perform and improves your aptitude.

#8 – Focus Forward – After learning from failures, turn your attention to the present and future. Energy spent reminiscing on the past depletes the resources you need to deliver results. Keeping your focus forward prepares you to handle whatever life throws your way.

How Promoting Wellness Improves Performance and Reduces Stress

Creating a culture of wellness is an excellent way to develop a talented team that thrives under pressure. Wellness is vital for employee morale, increased productivity and performance, and commitment to company values. There are many ways to create a happy workplace by promoting wellness. Taking care of your body and mind results in a higher capacity for effectively handling pressure. You can also increase engagement by combining more traditional well-being efforts with career development efforts.

Cultivating wellness focuses on the following:

  • Exercise: Physical activity impacts cognitive skills, attitude, concentration, stamina, and creativity.
  • Nutrition: Diet has a direct impact on cognitive performance.
  • Rest: Sleep affects hormones, energy, concentration, decisiveness, and confidence.
  • Mindfulness: Finding balance and self-awareness boosts your ability to find clarity and direction in chaotic and challenging circumstances.

A culture of wellness equips people, giving them the resources they need to perform their best in high-pressure situations. This eliminates stress before it begins, creating a prosperous and capable team. Creating more successful employees while gaining a reputation as an employer that builds performers will attract a more talented and driven recruitment pool.


Positive Adventures offers corporate training programs to help condition your team to perform under high levels of pressure, develop resilience, and eliminate stress. For more information on this powerful training, you can contact us here.

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