Reflection Friday: What do you do when pressure hits you?

It was Monday morning at 5 am and I could feel the pressure building for a critical decision and action I knew I had to take. I felt the anxiety in my chest, my breathing became heavier, my body language changed and my mind raced. For the very first time I was very cognizant of what my body and mind was doing in a very high pressure situation. 

I decided to sit with it for a moment and I heard my narrative. It was a freeway of neurons firing. They were all trying to come up with ideas to solve what was happening but going in no clear direction. I was stuck.

I took a walk and had a chance to pray and I put on a podcast on performing under pressure with a guy named J. P. Pawliw-Fry. He had written a book called 'Performing Under Pressure - The Science of Doing Your Best When It Matters Most'. A study of 12,000 people. I immediately thought this is a book I need to read but I needed advice today.

I sat down at a near by park and listened to the podcast and something shifted as I listened as I recognised what I could do differently right there.

I took away 4 big ideas that day from the interview that shifted my thinking and started me on a journey of studying human behaviour and high performance.

I don't know if you've ever felt the weight of pressure on your shoulders and not known where to go or perhaps you've developed your own coping mechanism. Whatever you experience its important to know that performing at your best in any situation is possible and I'm on that journey of optimal living. Here are the 4 big ideas I took away that Monday morning.

  1. Identifying how you show up under pressure is the first step to preparing to deal with pressure. What are your emotions, thoughts and physical sensations when pressure shows up? Experience them, write it down. If you can recognise these indicators you can prepare and control the response before it overwhelms you. 
  2. Your body is trying to get you prepared for performance. Those chemicals induced while under stress are there to enable you. Remind yourself that those sensations are there to help you perform, but without context they'll create chaos. Practice being comfortable with being uncomfortable. Give those emotions a direction by focusing on a task and smaller chunks rather the bigger outcome.
  3. Breathing breaks the cycle. The practice of centering and controlling your breathing can change your entire body chemistry. A simple by effective breathing activity I discovered worked wonders. 
    • Exhale
    • Inhale through your nose for 3 seconds.
    • Purse your lips and exhale, while letting your cheeks inflate. Draw the exhalation out to a count of 10 or however long you can. Try to get every last bit of air out of your lungs.
    • Repeat until you’ve settled down.
  4. Your body can affect your mind just as much as your mind affects your body. If you're struggling with your mind use your body to your advantage. Pawliw-Fry refers back to some of the great work and studies on resilience and confidence from people like Amy Cuddy at Harvard and Susan Fiske at Princeton. By simply changing your physical position to one that is more expansive you can raise your testosterone level which is linked to power and dominance. Essentially you can hack greater confidence. That was a great reminder for me. If you haven't checked out Amy Cuddy work watch her talk on Power Poses.

The interesting thing is there are three situations pressure shows up

  • When things are uncertain
  • When something is important
  • When we feel like we're going to be judged

Its important to identify that place and then apply these ideas to help support a more positive and focused internal narrative and outcome.

I'd encourage you to commit to the study of performance as just through that experience I recognised more of me that could be tapped into. I'm reading Pawliw-Fry's book now and I'd encourage you to buy the book.

Watch the interview here

What next?

If you're a key account manager, consultant or sales leader who recognises the continued importance to master deepening, differentiating and growing your key client relationships. Get connected at 

Jermaine Edwards

Founder of the Key Account Hack System - New Key Account thinking that transforms customer relationships and creates predictable sales growth.