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How to Balance the Pressure!

Mindset Made Simple Tip #69

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If you are my age, when someone says “under pressure” you probably go straight to the David Bowie/Freddie Mercury song with crazy lyrics like “Um ba ba be, Um ba ba be, De day da, Ee day da- that's okay!” Then you sing, bum bum bum da da bum bum! If you have no idea what I am talking about, check this great song out HERE 😊!

But the truth is, how we handle pressure makes all the difference in our performance.

Where does all the pressure our athletes feel come from?

I am sure you can rattle off several sources of pressure, but ultimately, pressure comes from how we define what is happening, or even more importantly, what is going to happen.

If you think about it, events have no meaning other than that meaning that we assign them.

For instance, running a race is an awesome experience for some and a nightmare for others.

A race is a race. A race is neither good nor bad, nor is it full of pressure or lack pressure. It is an event with a start and a finish, but it has a very different meaning or interpretation depending on the runner.

The same goes for jumping out of a plane. If two people jump out of a plane they will experience the same physical reactions. However, one may view it as pure exhilaration while the other views it as a life-threatening situation!

As it is with so many aspects of our performance, our mindset and perspective play an important role in how we look at experiences…including pressure!

Every coach I have talked to over the past month has mentioned the pressures being expressed by their athletes. Schools are dealing with increases in violence which some attribute to the pressures of the return to in-person learning after a year of going to class in PJs.

No matter the pressure source – parents, expectations, societal, striving for a scholarship, or personal expectations – how we view pressure will determine whether or not we can withstand it.

As I told my teams many times, the pressure on the inside must match the pressure on the outside, or like a potter crafting a piece of clay on a potter’s wheel, your work will either collapse in or flatten out.

But how do we balance the pressure on the inside and outside? How do we deal with what we think others expect and what we expect of ourselves?

If we can change the way we think about the event or situation that is causing pressure, we can alter our emotional response – and we know that changing our response changes everything that happens next!

One way to do this is to simply make a list of all the things that cause us to feel pressed. I encourage my athletes to do this over a few days. Making note of the things that make us feel anxious, worried, or under pressure can increase our control over these things and help us focus our mind on solutions or the reality of these things actually happening. Sometimes just seeing the things we are writing makes us realize the event or emotion is not as cumbersome as it seems.

Even superstars like Serena Williams see the benefit in such notetaking. She claims that making a list or notes of thoughts and feelings that may affect performance “can help clear out negative thoughts and emotions that keep you feeling stuck.”

I like that she uses the word “stuck” because so often we feel “stuck” in pressure situations with nowhere to turn.

After we make our list, it is important to review the list and then write down at least one thing you can do to let some of the pressure out of the thing that strikes you as most stressful today! What one thing can you do TODAY that can help you manage that pressure?

A strategy used by another superstar, 28-time Olympic medalist Michael Phelps, might be a step toward balancing that pressure.

Phelps continually took time to imagine both positive and negative scenarios and how he would respond to both should they occur in an upcoming race.

He instituted an “if/then” scenario practice that research has proven to be very effective in helping athletes overcome obstacles (which are usually seen as pressure!). This tool helped him to an Olympic gold medal in a race he swam blindly due to a malfunction in his goggles. He could not see, but had played out this scenario before and knew exactly how to respond!

By planning on how we will respond, we avoid thinking amid the pressure. We have already decided what we will do when X happens by responding with Y. With our if X, then Y plan in place, our response will be almost programmed in our minds and our chances of responding effectively and efficiently are much more likely than if we allow our emotions to lead us through the pressure.

I don’t know about you, but I feel the most pressure when I feel the least prepared. Using this if X, then Y planning can pre-empt pressure by giving us the confidence that we have our bases covered and are ready no matter what comes our way.

These two tools will not make pressure evaporate from our lives. But acknowledging what makes us feel pressured (or stuck) by writing the factors down and reading them out loud or to ourselves can help us automatically look for ways to lessen their impact on our performance.

Taking it one step further to plan for the good and bad that may come can help us perform at our best! We can trust our preparation and give our emotions a rest until it is time to celebrate a job well done!

Write it out, make a plan and have a great 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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