Performing under pressure
There is no denying that the current climate has increased the pressure on employees throughout every industry, with companies seeing tightened budgets and reduced footfall whilst employees are wrestling with job security and higher pressure in their day-to-day roles. We asked Professor Graham Jones, founder of Top Performance Consulting, about ways to manage stress effectively and still produce high-level performance under pressure.
The ability to cope with what can seem likeoverwhelming change has never been moreimportant. How should you handle it? The first thing to realise is that you're not alone, says Professor Jones.
"Pressure does extraordinary things to people" he continues, "it can crush performance in sometimes unexplainable ways, or it can induce extraordinarily high performance. The key to being able to flourish under pressure is the development of a certain mental toughness, which means the capacity to respond positively to multiple and sometimes conflicting pressures in order to consistently perform at high levels".
Being mentally tough doesn't mean that you never feel stressed under pressure. On the contrary, everyone experiences stress at times. "Research with the world's top athletes shows that they can continue to produce their best performances at times of significant physical and emotional pressure because they have learned to cope with the stress and maintain composure in such circumstances", Professor Jones adds. "Business professionals can develop the same type of skills to respond to pressures ranging from incessant demands, to the race for promotion or to the tough task of getting new business in a down economy".
Techniques for handling pressure
- Reframing negative thoughts. Overgeneralising and taking things personally are all negative thought patterns that, once identified, can be addressed.
- Managing the symptoms of stress. Stress can result in symptoms that are often difficult to manage. Relaxation techniques, such as deep breathing and taking breaks, are extremely helpful in controlling these symptoms. If you fail to get enough sleep, drink too much caffeine, or don't eat properly during difficult situations, problems can also seem more intense.
- Identifying the things you can't control. Accepting this as a fact of life allows one to control the amount and the nature of the pressure one feels from conflicting sources. Frequently, though, people make the mistake of believing that many workplace issues and performance targets are out of their control when these can, in fact, often be resolved so that you can keep as much control as possible of your situation.
Keeping up self-confidence
Self-belief is an essential element in the makeup of the world's best performers in business, sports and more. It underpins the ability to set and achieve goals, take risks, control potentially debilitating fear, and learn from mistakes - all of which are key components of being successful.
Robust self-belief enables you to maintain confidence in your ability to achieve performance goals under pressure.
Here are some strategies to try:
- Highlighting your skills and abilities. In tough times people sometimes overlook the many accomplishments they have achieved thus far. Listing your skills and the tangible achievements that have resulted from them highlights evidence of your professional and personal successes.
- Truly believing that you can achieve your goals. Realistic and appropriately stretching goals motivate you to achieve your performance expectations. However, it's also important to focus on the individual steps that will lead to each goal, as focusing solely on the ultimate outcome may only add pressure.
Maintaining focus on what matters
Top performers have the ability to deal effectively with many potential distractions whilst maintaining focus on the things that matter. This ability involves accepting that there are factors in the performance environment you cannot influence, but it also involves the following:
- Focusing on processes. The key is to keep your sights targeted on the processes involved in performing well in the matter at hand, rather than seeing only the actual completed project. Focusing on the process will allow the outcome to take care of itself.
- Focusing on the positives. Focusing on personal strengths and the positive aspects of your role right now helps to maintain focus on what matters so you can realise your potential.
Making motivation work for you
Ultimately, skills and abilities alone will not enable high performance that is sustainable under prolonged challenges. Great performers are able to bounce back because they continue to stay motivated.
Life in the dynamic and unpredictable world of retail and hospitality means that sometimes things will not go according to plan but, in order to succeed, individuals must be motivated and able to sustain performance during times of stress.
But, if you focus on the things you can control, what really matters in the job at hand, and all the positive aspects of your role rather than the negatives and constant pressures, you too can develop a level of mental resilience that will enable you to sustain high performance even in the face of today's challenges.
Professor Graham Jones' latest book Thrive On Pressure: Lead and Succeed When Times Get Tough is published by McGraw-Hill.