Change One Thing To Produce Better Results Under Pressure

By Bill Stainton

John Hypothetical has a big exam coming up, and there’s a lot riding on the outcome. He prepares well for the exam, but he’s understandably nervous. When the big day arrives, he can feel his heart beating fast. Despite all his preparation, John chokes.

Emily Imaginary has the same big exam coming up, with the same consequences riding on the outcome. She also prepares well and is also understandably nervous. When the big day arrives, she can feel her heart beating fast. But unlike John, Emily aces the exam.

Now, quick quiz: In this scenario, who would you rather be: John or Emily?

When you’re in a high-pressure situation, with a lot riding on the outcome, you want to be like Emily, don’t you? You want to ace the exam.

So what was the difference? With all other things being equal, why did Emily succeed while John failed?

It’s because Emily saw the exam as a challenge, while John saw the exam as a threat.

This one shift – choosing to see your pressure situation as a challenge rather than a threat – can mean the difference between prevailing and choking.

“That’s all well and good, Bill,” you say, “but how do you just choose challenge over threat? There’s gotta be more to it than that.”

Not really. But there are two things you can do that will help you make this shift.

1. Prepare. Really prepare. 

In order to see a high-pressure situation as a challenge rather than as a threat, you have to know, deep down inside, that you’re up for the challenge. You have to be 100% certain that “you’ve got this!” And you don’t get there without preparation. Some might even call it over preparation. It’s why Roger Federer hits thousands of backhands on the practice court; so he can hit that one perfect backhand on match point. Preparation gives you confidence. And when you’re confident, it’s really hard to see your adversary (the big test, the big presentation, the big meeting) as a threat.

2. Change the way you react to your body. 

Pressure situations generate physical manifestations. The shallow breathing, the sweaty palms, the proverbial “butterflies in the stomach.” In our opening example, John Hypothetical will experience these feelings and think, “Oh, wow. Look how nervous I am! My hands are literally shaking. This is terrible! I just want it to be over!” Emily Imaginary, on the other hand, experiences the same feelings and thinks, “This is my body ramping up for the challenge! I can feel the energy, the excitement! My body is doing what it’s supposed to do, and I’m ready! I’ve got this!”

In high-pressure situations, see your body as a friend, not an enemy! #pressure #leadership #highperformance #ProducingUnderPressure #stress”

Pressure situations, inherently, are neither a challenge nor a threat. They just are. So it’s not about the situation; it’s about your mental game as you approach the situation. By preparing thoroughly, and interpreting your body’s signals as positives, you will start to see your high-pressure situations as challenges rather than threats.

And that’s a winning game.

For 15 years, Executive Producer Bill Stainton led his team to more than 100 Emmy Awards and 10 straight years of #1 ratings. Today Bill helps leaders achieve those kinds of results–in THEIR world and with THEIR teams. His website is

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s