Performance Pressure

In a culture built on principles of self-determination, perseverance, and competition beginning as early as Manifest Destiny; American society continues to instill the notion of “survival of the fittest.” We are taught that we should excel in school, have a successful career, achieve all of our goals, stand out, crush our opponents, be the best, and of course exude confidence while doing so.

The thing is: we are all created differently and to assume that each one of us can live up to those expectations is not practical. So, we do our best to manage our pressure-provoking situations in an attempt to accomplish them without psyching ourselves out too much.

What’s it to You Anyway?

Take into consideration how the meaning or value of the goal or accomplishment affects the level of pressure we feel? Personally, I would feel more pressure to pass a required state board-licensing exam than I would to beat the next level of Candy Crush on my phone. The importance of the task is a huge factor in determining how we interpret the event.

What about the real or perceived expectations involved? We may have internal expectations for certain undertakings such as: hoping to make it to the finish line of the mud run this year or beating your fiancé at mini golf. And then there are the real or perceived external expectations such as: nailing a speech in front of hundreds of people or getting every note right during your televised piano solo. These expectations play a massive role in the amount of pressure we feel in any given situation.

The real or perceived consequence of possible failure is the most salient component of performance pressure. How many people are supporting you, depending on you, counting on you? Are there lives at risk (police, military, doctors), are there hopes on the line (professional athletes, natural healers), and/or will I disappoint my family (breaking sobriety, getting fired)?

Keeping Your Head in the Game

Many people thrive under the pressure to accomplish, achieve, perform, and triumph. Professional athletes, entertainers, and public speakers are used to the pressure and bask in the limelight. But what happens if you are someone who consciously or unconsciously allows the pressure of performance to get into your head? What coping skills do you have to overcome this roadblock? In these situations, it is important to remain calm and focus on your breathing. Give yourself a mental pep talk and reassure yourself that you are doing the best that you can do. If there is an audience, try to forget that they exist and remember to always stay in the moment. Gaining control over your nerves with your thoughts is key to adjusting your mindset.

He who says he can and he who says he can’t are both usually right” ~Confucius