Why Your External Pressure Is Really Internal Pressure

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You’ve felt the pressure, haven’t you?

There’s the clock. Just hanging up there on the wall, silently mocking you with its impending deadline.

There’s your team, watching you, judging you, wondering if you’re going to save the day…or blow it in spectacular fashion.

There’s your boss, ever critical, with her unrealistic expectations and her long list of other highly qualified people who want your job.

These are some of the external pressures that you’ve faced in the past, may be facing right now, and will no doubt face in the future.

But are they really external pressures? Let’s take a closer look, for example, at that clock on the wall. Now certainly that’s external. I mean, you can see it right there, twelve feet away from you. That, by definition, is external!

Yes, the clock is undeniably external. Oh, but look! Kim just walked right by the clock, and didn’t feel any pressure at all! And there goes Kyle—same result!

Turns out the clock is just a clock.

The clock is external, but the pressure of the clock is internal. It’s happening in your brain, mostly toward the front.

That’s because pressure is not an outside thing, or an outside event. Pressure is not the clock, the team, or the boss.

Pressure is the story you tell yourself about the clock, the team, the boss.

Pressure is not about what’s happening; it’s about the story you tell yourself about what’s happening. #pressure #producingunderpressure #leadership #performingunderpressure #stress Share on X

And this is good news. Actually, it’s great news. Because while you may not have any control over the actual clock (or team, or boss), you have complete control over the story you tell yourself about the clock (or team, or boss).

Let’s eavesdrop on two internal stories—both about a deadline imposed by the evil clock. The stories come from two of my childhood friends via Highlights magazine, Goofus and Gallant. [NOTE: Even as a kid, I doubted that these were their real names. I mean, really? Goofus? That’s just a poor parenting choice.]

Goofus’s story:

I’ll never get this report finished in time. All I can hear is the stupid ticking of the stupid clock! I’m going to fail and I’m probably going to get fired and everyone will know that I’m not any good at my job and I should never have taken this stupid job in the first place!

Goofus has, apparently, not changed since his early Highlights days. He’s still making poor choices—this time, in his choice of internal stories. On the other hand….

Gallant’s story:

Go ahead, clock—bring it on! I love a challenge! I’m going to nail this report, and not only am I going to meet my deadline, I’m going to finish early! I was picked for this job for a reason. I’m totally the right guy for this, and I live for these challenges!

Same situation; two different stories. And, more likely than not, two different outcomes.

Pressure is about the story you are telling yourself about what’s happening. Change the story and you reduce the pressure. Change the story—and you may also change the outcome.

Change the story you tell yourself about your situation and you change the outcome. #pressure #producingunderpressure #leadership #performingunderpressure #stress Share on X

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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