Pressures to Perform

Dealing with the pressure to perform – a personal account.

I gotta be honest with you. I do have difficulties dealing with the pressure to perform. Sometimes I feel burdened by others´ expectations, and often by the expectations that I put on myself. This happens when skiing together with higher level ski teachers, or when I have to perform on for example a technical exam. It´s just like I feel everyones´ eyes burning in my back, judging; and my own doubtful thoughts keep ringing in my ears, difficult to hide from.

Pressure is an everyday part of our working lives. Philosopher Thomas Carlyle said, “No pressure, no diamonds”, suggesting that, in manageable doses, it can energize and motivate you to perform and achieve. Too much of it, however, can tip the balance the other way. The trick to making pressure work for you, and not against you, is to find the “sweet spot” between having too little and too much of it.

Pressure disrupts your performance, makes your heart rate speed up, makes you struggle to breathe. For some thinking clearly becomes difficult, you may lose some control of your physical and mental abilities and your capacity to execute your skills. Pressure is a person’s enemy in decision making, it can greatly impact our ability to make quality decisions, often we panic and rush, making us do the wrong thing. Pressure causes us to feel anxiety, which is essentially fear, but usually the more often we experience high pressure situations like competition, the more that anxiety is calmed. Experience helps to overcome anxiety.

Where does pressure come from?

There are two kinds of pressure: internal and external.

Internal pressure come as a result of pressing yourself too hard, or from worrying that your ability to meet others´ expectation of you and those that you have of yourself.

External pressures come from the outside – the circumstances or the people around you.

Pressure is essentially in the mind of the beholder, it´s the interpretation an athlete has of their situation whether on exam day or any other stressful situation. So, pressure is basically all in your head, your mind creating anxiety when under stress.

Finding a way

I do struggle with internal pressures, and can get quite down about it all. I know I can perform – I have done it before! – but at times the pressure to perform is so much that it is difficult to repeat the wanted/right movement time after time. However, recognizing having to work on this, I am learning to view pressure as an opportunity to challenge myself and in this way try to overcome it using my physical and mental skills. Motivated and helped by my husband, who is a good skier – I have taken up the battle sword, and this is what I try to remind myself of, and try to do:

  • Be optimistic

Part of remaining calm is controlling your own feelings – which is possible. Find a way to look at the bright side of situations, and you find your outlook will be more positive.

  • Share it – talk about it

Even though this might be tough, and not something you´re used to – the fact is that no one can handle everything alone, and in general people understand that. To share is to care. To share your burden with someone else will ease the pressure.

  • Re-frame negative thoughts

Train yourself to be calmer by tackling negative thoughts head-on. Put each situation in perspective by stopping the alerted, frantic worries, and instead reminding yourself: This can be handled. This is not the end of the world. Break up your goals into smaller goals, for example first I´ll do X. Then I´ll do Y.

  • Breathe

Pause. Breathe in and out, and slowly count to ten. It´s an age-old suggestion that works. When you give yourself a moment, you clear your mind of worries and give your brain a moment to recalibrate.

  • Trick your mind

Yes. Smile. A good friend of mine reminded me of this; It is true – your body language has been shown to have a real effect on your brain´s outlook. Trick your mind, let it believe you´re happy – smile, and soon it will be real.

  • Be grateful

People who are grateful, more than any other factor, are happy and have a positive outlook on life. Like the most successful people, take the time to count your blessings every day!