By:Patrick J. Cohn, Ph.D.
Learning how to stay composed under pressure is key to performing your best in any situation. Whether it’s an important match or a business meeting, how you cope with pressure is one way you separate yourself from the pack.
Do you crumble under the pressure of big games, interviews, or important meetings and does your performance suffer? Learning how to stay composed under pressure is key to performing your best in any situation. Whether it’s an important match or a business meeting, how you cope with pressure is one way you separate yourself from the pack. Some people thrive under the pressure because they go deeper in “the zone” while others get distracted and have a meltdown. It’s how you interpret and deal with the pressure that helps you succeed.
Why is it that some people fold under pressure whereas others thrive on it? It depends on your interpretation of pressure—as a challenge or a threat. You must understand pressure comes from external sources—the big game, other’s expectations, or your own expectations to perform well. You can view pressure situations in two ways: as a challenge that instills motivation or as a threat that instills anxiety. In this article, I present a few techniques for staying composed when you start to feel the heat.
Slow Down Anxiety speeds up your behavior on the court or field. You may walk faster rush your plays, or speed up the pace of play. When you feel tense, make an effort to slow down. Don't hurry your warm-up. Take your time between each play, pitch, or shot. Be more deliberate without overanalyzing the situation.
Breathe Deeply Deep breathing is an excellent technique to reduce muscular tension and focus on something positive. Use abdominal breathing (breathe deeply through your abdominal cavity or stomach) to reduce tension. Once mastered, you should learn to relax with just a couple deep breaths. You can practice this at any time—in the car, on the course, or in a meeting.
Be Your Own Best Coach Anxiety increases when your self-talk is negative and self-defeating. An example of negative self-talk is, "I'm a choker, I can never perform well when I need to", which increases anxiety and decreases self-confidence. Notice when your self-talk becomes negative and learn to switch your inner voice to positive self-talk. You are your own best coach, so give yourself some words of encouragement.
Change Your Focus Anxiety or feelings or threat make you focus internally on your pounding heart, rapid breathing, and sweaty palms, which further increases anxiety. This internal focus is not a good type of focus for execution. Great execution flows from being focused externally on the environment and reacting to the situation. Shift your attention externally to what’s in front of you. Focus on the process of execution instead of the fear of failing.
Use it to Your Advantage The excitement (or fear) you experience when under pressure can help you if you interpret it as a friend. An increase in adrenaline that accompanies excitement (or fear) can give you an extra boost of energy to concentrate better and perform well. Focusing on how uncomfortable you feel only accelerates your anxiety. Learn to “feel the fear and do it any ways” by viewing your tension as a sign that you are ready and focused!
About the Author
Dr. Patrick J. Cohn is a leading mental game coach who consults with professional and amatuer athletes. He is the author of Going Low, Peak Performance Golf, The Mental Game of Golf and The Mental Art of Putting. For more information call (888) 742-7225. Or sign up for free mental game tips newsletter at: www.peaksports.com.
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