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Clutch or Choke? How to Perform Your Best Under Pressure!

Mindset Made Simple Tip #70 – To watch or listen, click HERE.

No old David Bowie songs today, but I do want to dig a little deeper into pressure - how we handle it, how we perceive it AND how we perform when under it!!

Last week we talked about writing down the things that cause us pressure as a way of managing how we feel as we approach things that mean a lot to us or when there are high expectations. We also discussed planning ahead for what may come like Michael Phelps and other champions do.

This week I want to dive into what we think about pressure and provide a few other tools that may help us manage “tight” situations a bit better!

No matter who we are or what we do, we all face pressure to perform. We also have been led to believe that there are those around us that are just “CLUTCH” and we, too, need to be clutch!!

Some indeed handle pressure more effectively than others. However, the belief we all have that others perform their best under pressure may not be accurate!

Overall, pressure has a negative effect on our performance.

Although we think that Michael Jordan made most of his last-minute shots, a review of his career showed that he performed better and more consistently in less pressure-packed situations.

It is the same for us.

We do not rise to the occasion. We fall back on our habits….and plans!

In the book Performing Under Pressure: The Science of Doing Your Best When it Matters Most, Weisninger & Pawliw-Fry content that “you are not going to generate superhuman performance when you are under pressure. The best you can do is your best – you can’t magically better than you have before.”

Based on this assertion, is in our best interest to understand that when we are feeling pressured or in a “do or die” situation, we should not expect to do BETTER than normal for us. But we need strategies to help us to “OUR THING” when the pressure mounts.

If we think we have to do something superhuman with a runner on 3rd in the bottom of the 7th or when the ball is in our hands or at our foot for the last-minute shot, we start to do things we don’t normally do…we throw our plans and processes out the window in hopes we can do MORE than normal!

This is a recipe for disaster!

Look at results in any sport and you will find that even the best do not score as often or perform as accurately under pressure.

Even so, some are more consistent than others.

If being “clutch” is not really a thing, how can we be better at handling pressure?

First, it may not be the actual pressure of the situation that does us in.

It has a lot to do with how we react to it that affects our outcomes!

As with everything we do, we cannot control the EVENT, but we can ALWAYS CONTROL OUR REACTION, and this changes everything that happens next – our OUTCOME!

As with all of the situations we face in competition, we cannot predict with complete accuracy what will happen next. But we can plan for all of the things that may come.

Before we enter any stressful situation, it is helpful to go through what Dr. Gabriele Oettingen calls WOOP.

Pressure or not, thinking about what we want to happen in the pressure-packed situation = OUR WISH (W) can help us plan.

The first "O" of WOOP is to think for a minute about the OUTCOME we want to achieve. Seeing ourselves attain our desired performance by helping us align our actions with our desired outcome! Watching ourselves be successful can help produce a positive attitude toward the task and replace the negative or non-productive thinking that we so commonly revert to in times of stress!

The second “O” may be the most important. Everything has an OBSTACLE! To act as if life is full of roses and butterflies sets us up for failure.

Looking at what our OBSTACLES can help us manage our anxiety. Leaving things to chance and lacking mental preparation for the “unexpected” can throw us off our game even further!

This leads directly to the “P” in WOOP here we devise a plan of attack.

We can picture ourselves overcoming the obstacles and have and if X, then Y plan to diffuse the issues that arise.

Again, we cannot predict the future, but we can choose to plan for it! A plan helps us follow our process and remain focused on what we can and can’t control. It provides comfort and comfort leads to confidence!

Finally, those who handle pressure best change their perspective on their anxiety or nervousness.

Simply reframing that anxiety into excitement can make a difference!

Pre-performance anxiety is often just excitement with very ineffective breathing! If we can control our breathing and restate our nerves as excitement to perform, we change the way our body responds to these feelings. “I AM EXCITED” instead of “I AM A NERVOUS RECK” can be helpful.

This does not mean we say…” you need to calm down.” A complete calming of our nerves is not realistic, but a reframe is!

Statements like “I’ve done this before, I can do it again” and reliving those times we did our best despite pressure helps us navigate our obstacles and perform at our best!

Pressure is inevitable for all performers. Understanding how we react to it and making a plan to manage ourselves and our situation can help us plan for the next pressure-packed situation.

Using WOOP, reframing our emotions and reliving our success can help us do our best, no matter what we face!

So WOOP it up this week!!


P.S. I’d love to work with you and those you lead. Let’s plan a time to chat about how my programs and tools can help your athletes or employees handle pressure and perform at their best!

Julie Jones

Certified Mental Performance & Mindset Coach

SSB Performance • 234-206-0946



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