Prepare and Relax: Finding Balance in High Stakes Situations

The “pressure to perform” can stay with us like an old acquaintance that we would prefer not to see too often. You may feel pressure about negotiating a big deal for your company, hosting a client event or speaking in front of a large audience. Many have a love-hate relationship with pressure. In my work with peer forums of CEOs and C-Suite executives, I’ve observed that the pressure to perform comes in many forms. It can fuel some to succeed. Push others to failure. And, those in between can feel whipsawed. How can you engage this “acquaintance” and befriend it?

Baseball great, Derek Jeter would talk about making high stakes games “fun”. To paraphrase him, his advice is to have fun first and the preparation will kick in. Preparation and relaxation are the keys to a successful performance strategy; they allow you to transform apprehensive or fearful energy to a more constructive open state. Prepare ahead and think through the situation –What is the purpose? Who is involved? What is important to them? What is the outcome you most want? How can you present yourself in such a way that it’s a win? Rehearse, picture the outcome you want and when you get there, look for ways to enjoy the experience.

Here are some do’s and don’ts to think about:

  • Take time to think through your “performance” and what to anticipate.
  • Adjust for hick-ups and be prepared for changing circumstances, e.g. pretend that something happens where you can’t use your PowerPoint and rehearse your presentation without it.
  • Shrink the importance of the pressure moment by minimizing its significance, e.g. If you’re thinking that this is my only source of funding ahead of an important “pitch,” reframe your internal dialogue to something like, “This is a great opportunity and there will be others.”
  • Desensitize yourself by accelerating your practicing just as golfing champion Phil Mickelson does by making himself putt over 100 three foot puts before he leaves practice.
  • Remember to breathe deeply and stay present to what is going on in the moment – your present surroundings and any others involved. It’s amazing how focusing outside yourself can shift the outcome of a high stakes performance and get you more in tune with your environment.
  • Smile often, it changes your physiology and can help you relax.