Everybody knows that pressure impacts performance. Some people seem to deal with it far better than others, but no one is immune to the effects pressure has on our ability to do whatever it is we are trying to do. In fact the evidence apparently suggests that everyone performs worse under pressure than they would normally be able to do.
If you play sport competitively then this will not be news to you. )Neither will it be news if you spend some of your time doing presentations of any sort, or leading meetings, organisations or working to a deadline.) If that sport is a solitary activity like tennis or golf, then you are quite alone with the pressure.
So how do you cope? It's always struck me that you need a strategy. I was talking to a tennis friend some time ago, and they were quite surprised that I said that every time I prepare to serve or receive on the court, I do so with a plan in mind. I might not execute the plan, but at least I have one! The plan might be simple: get the ball in play, or it might be a little more detailed: first serve wide, second shot cross court to the other side third shot down the line to finish. Whatever it is, there's always something I'm going to try to make happen. Doing this doesn't make me play any better (sadly) but sometimes it stops me trying too hard or trying to hit the high risk shot when it's not necessary.
So what might a strategy for coping under pressure look like?
In the book I was scanning there were a series of chapter headings that I suspect are the authors' distilled wisdom on the matter.
Now, I haven't read the book, but these four words seem to form an interesting strategy. How would you turn them into a plan? It strikes me that it might boil down to a simple approach that starts with a basic assumption that there is no reason at all that your plan shouldn't work. Normally we're beset by doubts about the plan we have. We see all the things that could go wrong and almost expect at leafs one of those things to occur. If you were to stand by the tee on a golf course that requires you first shot to avoid a lake on the left side of the fairway, you'd probably see a lot of shots veer sharply to the left and disappear below a ripple of water.
At this point you'll probably hear the unfortunate golfer declare, "I knew that would happen," rather than, "I didn't expect that!" The point is simple, we tend to expect the worst outcome rather than the best. Perhaps "confidence" is about setting your mind on your ability to achieve the best outcome. If you can't imagine yourself hitting the best outcome target, then look for a next best alternative rather than the worst case scenario. For example, it's 30-40 and you're serving. What's your plan? My best outcome plan would be a wide sliced serve taking my opponent right out of court and giving me an easy second shot into an open court. But what if I've missed the last 3 or 4 wide serves? If I can't imagine myself hitting that wide serve I might go for a body serve instead. On the other hand, I might still go for the wide serve because I know I can do it and when I do it right it's a very good serve indeed!
I guess this is where optimism kicks in. Confidence assures me that I can do this because I know my abilities, optimism encourages me because it expects the best outcome. Tenacity and enthusiasm suggest something about holding onto the self-belief that comes from confidence, even if the plan doesn't work this time. I'm not quite sure what I understand enthusiasm to be in the context, I'll have to read the book to find out!