Under intense pressure, our patterns of thought, judgment, and action can prove remarkably maladaptive. Here’s how to keep what’s already bad from worsening, stem the contingency, and take charge of dreadful circumstances.
- Be clear about what you need to do. Don’t over-optimize every variable. People who get stuff done under pressure precisely understand what they want. And they’re selective about when they push themselves to the max—only when the stakes are big enough and when the pressure is entirely justified.
- Do a threat assessment. Beware, pressure can narrow the cognitive map and blind you to become fixated on one line of thought. Keep an eye on all critical parameters and maintain awareness of the situation across the board.
- Put things into perspective. Reframe priorities and values. Stress is generally sourced in the feeling of not being in control, and tuning into the uncontrollable can intensify the pressure. Consider the situation objectively and ask what’s the worst that could happen. Have a plan ready, and focus on the task—not the outcome.
Idea for Impact: Mastery is a process. Practice simulated high-stress situations, just as pilots learn to handle panel instrument malfunctions on flight simulators.