How To Feel Great in A High-Pressure Situation

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Imagine you’re in this situation. You’re a professional hockey player. You’re playing in the Stanley Cup Playoffs. It’s the deciding game; you’re in overtime. There are 10 seconds left, and suddenly, one of your teammates passes the puck to you.

What would you do? Would you panic? Would you choke? Would you rise to the occasion and save the day?

How would you feel? Nervous? Alarmed? Excited? Confident?

Overtime in the deciding game, 10 seconds on the clock…and it’s all up to you.

That’s a high-pressure situation.

Do you want to know what all-time hockey great Wayne Gretzky said when asked how he felt in that situation?

Wayne said: “I live the whole season for that moment.”

How is that possible? How is it possible to be in one of the highest-pressure situations most of us could possibly imagine — with the season on the line, your team putting their future in your hands, and millions of fans watching your every move — and feel great about it?

It’s possible because, in that moment, there are two things that are indisputably true about Wayne Gretzky:

  1. He’s really, really good.
  2. He knows he’s really, really good.

And that’s why Wayne Gretzky could feel great about being in the middle of a high-pressure situation. Because he knows that that’s when he can shine the brightest.

So let’s take a closer look at those two attributes of Gretzky’s, and see how they can apply to you.

  1. He’s really, really good.

In other words, he has competence. He’s up to the task at hand. So where does competence come from? Natural ability? Sure, that may be a part of it — but the research shows that it’s only a small part, and that we tend to overrate it. The bigger part of competence comes from things like study, practice, and experience. Study means you’re continuously learning — from colleagues, from coaches, from mentors, from books, from videos, from your successes and mistakes. Practice means simulating the high-pressure situations before they arise, honing your skills, playing “What if” scenarios. And experience means putting yourself in these situations over and over and over again, to the point where “high-pressure” becomes part of your comfort zone.

So if you’re not really, really good at what you do, get really, really good at it. Study, practice, and gain that all-important experience.

When it’s crunch time, it helps to be really, really good. #pressure #leadership #CrunchTime #ProducingUnderPressure Click To Tweet
  1. He knows he’s really, really good.

In addition to competence, Gretzky also has confidence. The reason he can feel great in a high-pressure situation that might cripple the rest of us is because he’s been there before, and he knows he has what it takes — he knows he’s up to the challenge. So when the adrenaline hits, it manifests itself in electrifying excitement rather than paralyzing fear.

And where does this confidence come from? It comes from competence. It comes from experience. It comes from having been there before — successfully.

Do you have the confidence to shine when it’s crunch time? #pressure #leadership #CrunchTime #ProducingUnderPressure Click To Tweet

“But Bill,” you say, “I know people who are supremely confident in their abilities while at the same time being supremely incompetent at those same abilities.”

Yeah, but for the most part they’re either dilettantes or jerks, aren’t they? And the difference between them and Wayne Gretzky is that, when it’s crunch time, Gretzky could deliver the goods. And have a blast while doing it!

So yes, it is possible to feel great in a high-pressure situation. When you’re really, really good — and you know you’re really, really good — you, like Wayne Gretzky, will start to see those high-pressure situations as opportunities to shine your brightest.


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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