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How To Conquer Pressure Like A Brain Surgeon

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Some people would say that I have a high-pressure job. I’m a professional speaker. My job is to do what, to most people, is their number one fear: speaking in public. In a few days, I’ll be speaking to an audience of 5,000 people — and I’m fine with that. For many people, though, that would be more pressure than they could handle.

You know who I think has a high-pressure job? Brain surgeons! See, if I screw up, what happens? The speech doesn’t go well, and I probably don’t get invited back. If the brain surgeon screws up, what happens? The patient dies. So I think we can all agree that the brain surgeon is under much more pressure, right?

You know who might not agree? The brain surgeon.

“How is that possible, Bill?” you ask. “Surely the brain surgeon knows, better than anyone, how much pressure she’s under?”

But here’s the thing. Most specialty surgeons (brain surgeons, cardiac surgeons, orthopedic surgeons, etc.) don’t feel nearly the amount of pressure we mere mortals might think they do.

Why is that?

Largely, it’s because of one word: repetition.

The cure for job #pressure? Repetition. #stress #producingunderpressure #highpressurejobs #dealingwithpressure #copingwithpressure Click To Tweet

When a surgeon steps into the operating room, she has performed that procedure so many times before that, in her eyes, it’s routine. It’s just another day at the office.

The training generally follows a process called WDT, which stands for Watch, Do, Teach.

When learning a procedure, the doctor/student will Watch this procedure being done by surgeons who have already mastered it. And then they’ll watch again. And again. And again.

The next step is to Do the procedure — at first under close supervision and then, finally, as the lead surgeon.

The final step, which some say is the most critical, is to Teach others how to do the procedure. When you can teach it to others, you know you have it mastered.

It’s the same in your world. Even though you may not be aware of it, you probably went through (or are going through) the same steps. And what do they have in common?


When you Watch a skill being performed, when you Do the skill, and when you Teach the skill — dozens, hundreds, thousands of times — you are repeating it to the point where it becomes routine. And when it becomes routine, it eases the pressure.

Do you think your pilot starts shaking and sweating when it’s time for him to land the plane? Probably not. Why? Because he’s done it thousands of times — it’s routine.

Why can I get up and speak to 5,000 people without falling to pieces? Because I’ve spoken to hundreds and hundreds of audiences before.

Here’s the equation: As repetition increases, pressure decreases.

As repetition increases, #pressure decreases. #stress #producingunderpressure #highpressurejobs #dealingwithpressure #copingwithpressure Click To Tweet

Do you recall the pressure you felt the first time you got behind the wheel of a car? If you’re over, say, 30, you may not even remember it — but it was there! Do you feel that pressure now? Probably not (unless something out of the ordinary occurs). There’s no pressure anymore. It’s routine.

Bottom line: Whatever high-pressure skills are involved in your job, practice them. And then practice them again. Over and over and over. Until they become routine.

It works for the brain surgeon, and it’ll work for you.


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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