Picture this. You’re about to play your favourite sport. Let’s say it’s a tennis match, for the sake of this post.
You’re about to step on to the court, when someone comes up and says you’ve been selected for a special competition. The winner of this match will get £1 million.
How does knowing that affect your game?
Do you go on court and play the same casual, relaxed game as before?
Do the stakes feel so high your best game goes out of the window?
Here’s another example.
When I was a teen, I played the Piano and was up for a grade exam. I played the pieces well enough in practice but on the day, in the room with the stern, grumpy, uncommunicative grunts and tutting of the examiner, my playing fell apart.
I ascribed my loss of performance and confidence to the meanness of the person and my high levels of nerves of having to ‘perform on demand.’
My guess is, if you felt your tennis game might fall apart at the thought of a £1 million at stake, you might be the same.
There’s an innocent misunderstanding here about performance and the cause of stress.
In the case of my piano playing, while no virtuoso, my best playing came when my mind was relaxed and I seemed to have nothing on the performance.
That simple statement is true for all performance. When our minds are relaxed, we show up as our best.
When they’re full of ideas such ‘what happens if I mess it up’ ‘what would people say if they saw me’ then it’s hard to play / work with the joy and lightness when little seems at stake.
The question that arises now, is so what do I do?
Seeing this truth is a big step - knowing that the million dollars or the exam certificate or the promotion or whatever it is, are not and can never be the cause of stress.
You see, our feelings are only ever telling us about our state of mind, our clarity of thought. They’re never telling us about whether we’re going to win the match, flunk the exam, get the promotion. They can’t predict the future or have anything to say about the past.
They only tell us about the quality of our thought in the moment.
Put most simply, our feeling is a real time GPS for our here and now experience.
The better it feels, the more we can trust the reliability of our thoughts. The worse it feels, the bigger the nudge not to take our thoughts and thinking too seriously.
Seeing this as true for you is really the key to performing well under pressure or in difficult situations.
The more we see it, the more we’re able to tune out those thoughts or not take them so personally and get on with doing what we need to do.
It really does make all the difference, without having to use complex self-management or motivation techniques or will power.
It takes you out of paralysis into action and has you performing at high levels when others are losing their heads.