How To Perform Under Pressure


We all have to deal with pressure in some form. Sometimes we do it well and other times not. But if you want to know what works according to the science, then read on.

You know the feeling: You have a massive deadline to hit, and you can’t think straight. You have an exam that is making you nervous, or you have to give a presentation that could make or break your career. Or… you’re just trying to keep your cool when someone is being incredibly frustrating. Maybe you get a feeling in your stomach, or your hands start to shake, or you feel like your head is about to explode. What do you do?

Do you tell yourself it’s going to be alright?
Do you give yourself a good talking to: “C’mon, you got this!”.
Or do you start with some negative self-talk explaining why you’re going to fail?

Well, here’s something you can do that’s simple. And it works.

A recent study looked at university students who suffered crippling performance anxiety before exams. In the test, they gave the students a test under no pressure at all and then did a re-test in a high pressure environment.

The students were allocated to two groups: Before the high pressure test, Group 1 did nothing at all, while Group 2 wrote a short paragraph expressing their emotions.

The re-test results, in the high pressure situation, showed that Group 1 (that did nothing), suffered their usual anxiety and consequently dropped around 7-10% in their performance. But Group 2 (expressing their emotion) increased anywhere between 5-10%. They didn’t just match their previous scores - they exceeded them.

This concept of ‘Labelling’, which simply involves giving your emotions a name, is one of the most effective things we can do to control our emotions under pressure. It seems that this simple analytical activity can start to quiet the Emotional Brain, so that our Thinking Brain can get on with the work it needs to do.

But the key here is being succinct. Don’t go on for pages and pages and hours and hours of telling everyone how bad you are feeling. I’m pretty sure that’s not going to help.