Keeping calm and clear in high-end pressure situations is a skill and not always that easy, especially as we raise the stakes. Whether it’s giving a presentation, performing a musical piece, playing a sport or entering a job interview, there are skills and strategies we can implement to help us perform at a higher level.
Here are 5 things you can do to help you perform under pressure:
1. Focus more on what you can control over what you can’t
On the lead-up to any performance, focusing on what you can control over what you can’t is a very effective way to get you in the zone. Let’s imagine we have two circles: the circle of concern (things you can’t control) and the circle of influence (choices you can make to influence your environment). If we spend too much time focusing on what we can’t control it can lead us to either fall into a negative mindset or lose track of our own progress.
There is nothing wrong with analysing what the competition is doing – sometimes this clearly has to be done, especially in the business world and sport. However, too much focus on the opponent can be negative in the long run. If you’re starting any business venture, take a look at what the competitors are doing but then play to your own strengths. Don’t just copy or get sucked into what they are doing.
You are unique, so celebrate that and create something you’re proud of. If you are a musician, remember the phrase ‘Steal like an artist’. Listen and play your favourite band’s songs then take all the influences and write some fresh, new original material.
2. Develop concentration through meditation
Concentration may sound like a very obvious example to keep you in the zone. One very effective way to increase your concentration levels is through meditation. By simply focusing on one object during the meditation you can master the art of concentrating the mind. This could be an external object, the breath or the inner body. The idea is to keep bringing the mind back every time it wanders. So for any long match in which your attention and concentration is needed, you can hold a high level of concentration for longer.
“Quiet the mind and the soul will speak.” – Ma Jaya Sati Bhagavati
3. Use an anchor
Using a holistic word or image to guide performance. This can be a great technique for when we start to overthink during a task. This can be a really helpful strategy to help keep our minds in the moment and at ease. It can be as simple as using a holistic cue word such as ‘expansive’, ‘smooth’ or ‘clear’. Anything that enhances the movement in the performance.
Now, if we apply this with an image this can become very effective. A group of basketball players did an experiment in which they used the analogy, ‘Shoot as if you were trying to put a cookie in a cookie jar on a high shelf’. In the same experiment, another set of players were given an eight-step rundown on what to do. The team who were given the simple analogy outperformed the other group when the pressure was increased.
For me, affirmations don’t work just on their own. They sound great but need utilising more effectively. A great way to do this to have a three-step process when writing your affirmations. Affirmations are also personal. A professional rugby player may use a completely different set of affirmations than a professional snowboarder. And it’s down to the individual’s tastes and needs in the given task.
Step one: Hold a factual statement on who you are. “I am one of the most committed, skilled musicians there is”.
Step two: Hold the right mindset prior to the event by identifying the main obstacles the performer faces. By adding “If I do this”, you really give the affirmation impact. “My biggest challenge is harnessing my concentration. If I harness my concentration I really get into the flow of the music”.
Step three: Focus on improving your process and practice. “There will always be bum notes but they can never penetrate my secure performance bubble. There are no limits at the margin of everything I do”.
Be creative with your affirmations and come up with some yourself. Have fun with them but stick to the three steps and don’t cheat yourself – use affirmations that really affirm how you think and feel.
“I accept my power.” – Louise Hay
5. Feeling and accepting what arises
This is to desensitise yourself to the discomfort of pressure. This can be a great technique for helping musicians with stage fright. Many musicians at first struggle with stage fright, but over time they get used to getting up over and over again – it becomes like home.
Their biggest challenge is keeping the consistency when the pressure gauge is turned up. This can also be a really helpful way to manage your emotions. A lot of the time we tend to resist what arises. This is especially true in a high-pressure situation. By simply accepting what arises, you may be surprised to see the emotions shift.
One of the most effective ways to accept an emotion is to consciously ‘be’ the emotion. This may sound paradoxical, but true acceptance comes when you can truly be with what arises.
A level of confidence will naturally grow from this great insight. For example, if anger arises in a situation, it might not be the most helpful emotion. If you catch it as it arises, ‘be’ the anger – remain rooted in it and see what happens. If you resist it, it only gets stronger.
This is the same for anxiety and nerves. Try your best not to resist what arises. This may sound a lot easier than it is, but with time it can really be a powerful technique in both pressured situations and the rest of your life. Take some time to try some of these strategies and step into your greatness today.