Stop Choking Under Pressure with this Simple Technique

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Do you regularly find yourself in high-pressure situations? If you’re a leader (or a lion tamer), the answer is probably yes. And if that’s true, then it’s also true that you’re expected to produce under these high-pressure situations, right? In fact, that expectation to produce only adds to the pressure!

And that actually increases the chance that you’ll choke.

So how do you do it? How do you keep from choking in the big moments—the ones that really count?

Simple: use a pre-show ritual.

When I was the Executive Producer of Seattle’s legendary comedy TV show Almost Live!, we had to come up with a brand new show every week for 15 years. A brand new show that would be seen by roughly one million people—as well as the live studio audience. And, if we didn’t keep the ratings up, we could be canceled at any time. It wasn’t lion-taming, but it was pressure!

There are a lot of moving parts to producing a TV show. I knew that if I was going to be effective, I would have to be focused. I couldn’t be distracted. So I found a way to put myself in the “zone” each week, and that was by having a pre-show ritual.

Having a pre-show ritual before pressure situations puts you in the zone for #success. #ProducingUnderPressure Click To Tweet

My ritual was a very simple one. A half hour before showtime, I’d go into my office, pour myself a glass of white wine, dim the lights, and put on a Mozart CD. The same CD each week, for 15 years. As I listened to Mozart, I’d visualize the studio audience laughing. After about five minutes, I’d leave my office and head to the studio.

What did this ritual do for me? Several things:

  • It pushed the distractions into the background.
  • It let me focus on the outcome I wanted.
  • It acted as a cue to both my body and brain that “it’s showtime!”

In short, my ritual changed my context. Which leads to the obvious question: What ritual could you create that would change your context for those high-pressure moments? As you think about that, here are some tips for a successful “producing under pressure” ritual. (These are from Hendrie Weisinger and J.P. Pawliw-Fry’s book, Performing Under Pressure.)

  • Keep it short (3-5 minutes).
  • Do it immediately before your high-pressure situation.
  • It should include a mental component (e.g., reviewing your key points, thinking about how you’ll approach the test questions, etc.)
  • It should include a physical component (e.g., deep breathing, stretching, dancing, striking a power pose, etc.)
  • It should include you visualizing success (e.g., when I visualized the studio audience laughing).
  • Upon completion, use an anchor word or phrase that signals that you’re ready—for example, “It’s showtime!”
6 Steps to a pressure-reducing ritual. #ProducingUnderPressure Click To Tweet

Having a pre-show ritual put me in an ideal mental space for my weekly high-pressure show. I have no doubt that a pre-show ritual will help you with your high-pressure shows as well!


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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