Life is busy at this time of the year. It seems everyone I speak to lately is drowning in professional commitments and rushing to meet the next deadline. Some of these people are obviously stressed and feeling the pressure. Others are soaring along, in their element and enjoying every minute.
Why do some people thrive in situations of high pressure and others collapse?
For some of us, when we’re stressed or under pressure to perform, we feel scared or uncertain. Sometimes when we’re scared, our natural instinct is to freeze. Subconsciously, “I’m not sure I can do this” turns into “I’m not going to do this”. Our fear prevents us from taking the next step. When it comes to our work, this in turn makes us incredibly unproductive and, ultimately, unsuccessful. How are you supposed to get through your never-ending list of things to do if you keep stalling on the hard stuff?
It’s easy to assume that those who are thriving under pressure don’t feel scared or uncertain. We think they must be highly confident and secure in their own abilities to be getting through so much so quickly. I sense, however, that this is not always the case.
What I think differentiates the thriving from the drowning when the heat is on, is that the thriving feel the pressure, the fear and the uncertainty…and push on regardless. If you ask these powerhouses of productivity, they might even tell you that they perform better under pressure. “Bring it on” they say.
Is this an inherent personality trait or a learned skill? I think its probably a bit of both. Whilst I believe some do have a natural instinct to ‘step up’ when required, I also believe we can learn to make friends with our fear and use it to our advantage. The first step in that process surely has to be recognising that we are scared, or anxious or uncertain, and giving ourselves some credit for that: “hey, I have a lot on my plate. Anyone in this situation would be stressed!” But this is where the fork in the road appears: we can panic, bundle ourselves up into a ball and ignore our obligations to our clients, ourselves and our employers, or we can consciously decide that our fear will not get the better of us. We will be scared and uncertain, because sometimes that can’t be helped. But we will not let that fear and uncertainty turn into panic and stress.
The reward from this line of thinking is that you will create a positive feedback loop: when you consciously acknowledge that you are scared or anxious about something, and then you actually do that thing anyway, you get an extra sense of achievement: “I was bloody terrified and I did THAT! That felt great!” And suddenly, without you realising it, you have just become one of those people who thrives under pressure. You’ll soon be seeking out the next big challenge and tackling it head on.
Give it a try this week. What have you been putting off because it’s too scary or too difficult? Stop being controlled by your fear. Acknowledge it, feel it, push on and get the job done.