Why Believing Your Own Hype Will Make You Choke Under Pressure

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The stories are legendary.

  • Abraham Lincoln loses his run for the Senate…twice. And goes on to become our greatest president.
  • A young Robert De Niro gets passed over for the role of a lifetime as Sonny Corleone in The Godfather. And goes on to become one of the greatest actors of his era.
  • Steve Jobs, in 1985, gets booted out of the company he founded…Apple. He returns in 1997. And goes on to rebuild what will become the first $1 trillion public US company.

What’s the common denominator?

Each of these stories begins with failure and missed opportunities. You can easily imagine Lincoln, De Niro, and Jobs each saying, “Well, that’s it. I’ll never get a chance like that again.

But if these stories—and hundreds more like them—teach us one thing, it’s that life gives us multiple chances.

Do you remember feeling devastated in high school—like your life was over? Of course, you do. Everyone feels devastated in high school—like their life is over. Now here’s the follow-up question. Was your life over? If you’re reading this, the answer is clearly no.

So let’s jump forward from high school to today. The situations may have changed, but the emotions haven’t, have they?

When you’re in a high-pressure situation, you go right back to high school emotions: “This is it. I’ll never get a chance like this again. If I blow this, I’ll be devastated and my life will be over!”

Aside from a few extraordinary situations, none of that is true—not in the long run (or even, sometimes, in the short run).

But we believe it’s true at the moment. And believing that only heightens the pressure, which only increases our chances of blowing it.

In other words, we increase our own pressure by believing something that, in all likelihood, is not true.

We increase our own #pressure when we inflate the importance of a situation. #Leadership #CrunchTime #ProducingUnderPressure Share on X

There are two factors that determine how much pressure we feel in a high-pressure situation: the situation, and our interpretation of the situation. And, of the two, the latter is the more important.

To produce better results under #pressure, change your interpretation of the event. #leadership #CrunchTime #ProducingUnderPressure Share on X

When the New England Patriots go to the Super Bowl (which they’ve done ten times), their coach, Bill Belichick, tells the team to “treat it like a normal Sunday.” That may seem like an impossible charge. But the more the players are able to “treat it like a normal Sunday,” the better they can focus on the fundamentals, the task at hand, and ignore the hype.

And that’s what a lot of our interpretation of a high-pressure situation is: the hype. When we interpret the situation as being “life or death,” or “our one and only chance,” we’re getting caught up in the hype. We’re distorting reality.

The answer is to remind ourselves that life gives us multiple chances. When we do that, we can minimize the importance of any one, single event. Even if the event is important (and I’m not saying that the events in your life aren’t), by minimizing that importance in our minds, we can filter out the hype and do our jobs.

And when we do that, we have a much better chance of succeeding, rather than choking, under pressure.


About the Author:

29-time Emmy Award winner and Hall of Fame keynote speaker Bill Stainton, CSP is an expert on Innovation, Creativity, and Breakthrough Thinking. He helps leaders and their teams come up with innovative solutions — on demand — to their most challenging problems.
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