How to perform well under pressure | Psyche Guides - Deepstash
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Coping with pressure

Coping with pressure

From time to time, everyone must cope with the pressure of their own expectations or that of others. They may feel they don't have the skills needed or the weight to succeed.

However, they are often expected to become mentally stronger or tougher to lessen the frustration from feeling out of their depth. Athletes, adventures, entrepreneurs widely adopt this mental toughness. But this it can push performers to shy away from an intimidating challenge.


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Consequences of mental toughness

Those who practice mental toughness often ignore their worries and could self-sabotage.

You may see evidence of this in putting off practising, procrastination, valid excuses, and poor performance.

Unhelpful coping mechanisms include:

  • Self-imposed rigid rules.
  • Perfectionistic traits.
  • Lack of self-compassion.
  • Seeing goals as threats rather than challenges to embrace. 

This can cause you to think with the fear-driven parts of your brain and prevent creative solutions.


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Mental flexibility

This approach to coping with pressure is drawing on the principles of acceptance and commitment therapy (ACT). It blends insight from Buddhism and other perspectives with psychotherapy.

Mental flexibility can be described as 'the ability to contact the present moment more fully … and to change or persist when doing so serves valued ends.'  When you are mentally inflexible, you'll continue in your action, even if it's no longer effective in helping you achieve your goal. With flexibility, you can switch quickly based on the demands of each situation and which is in line with your values.


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Mental flexibility as a goal

People do better when they acknowledge and face their fears, worries and stress instead of fighting them. For example, the more you try to block out challenging thoughts, the more evident they become.

When accepting these fears, they lose their impact. The things you fear will distract you less, and you can then become more solution-focused.


162 reads

Separate yourself from your thoughts

To perform well under pressure, distance yourself from destructive thoughts and self-talk. Remind yourself that your thoughts are often emotionally driven thoughts, not facts. 'I'm useless at presenting, this will be embarrassing.'

To help you distance yourself from your thoughts:

  • Notice the unhelpful thoughts without dwelling on them.
  • Repeat them in an amusing voice to pull the negativity and power from the thought.
  • Try distanced self-talk. Instead of thinking, 'I always begin my presentations poorly', add distance with "I'm thinking that I begin my presentations poorly.'


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Practice labelling your feelings accurately

When you're under pressure, your feelings might overwhelm you, such as  saying, 'I'm terrified.' This can trigger the fight-or-flight response and prevent you from finding solutions.

To overcome this, practice increasing your emotional vocabulary to help describe your feelings more accurately.


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Replace words that increase pressure

'Should', 'must', 'have' is loaded with expectations and pressure and can instantly trigger a threat reaction. 'I should be able to win.' or 'I should be able to finish this project tonight.'  Instead, reword it as opportunity or awareness. 'Here's an opportunity to do better.'

If thinking this way feels unnatural, try writing down a few examples of the pressurised self-talk in your head, such as "I should be the best,' and then replace 'should' with something less restrictive.


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Break some of your own rules

Rigid thinking and routines can contribute to feelings of pressure. Increase your mental flexibility by deliberately challenging your usual way of doing things.

Every day for the next week, do something you don't usually do, such as washing up immediately after dinner or taking a different route home from work. This can teach your brain that you are able to escape routine and that it will work out OK.


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Identify and remember your values

Know why performance matters. This is all about your values. Clear values will help you spot when they could be violated and measure how to respond when you feel under pressure. For example, your goal may be to become the highest goal-scorer in your soccer team, but your values may be trying your best and being a good teammate. 

To find your key value, scroll through your photos on your phone. Is there a theme that emerges? Success, family, beauty, community, spirituality? Then consider how you can make more decisions in line with that value.


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