How to Perform Well Under Pressure

Diamonds are made under pressure.

It’s a naturally occurring process deep in the Earth. Companies do make fakes — “cultured diamonds” — but nature’s recipe is the most valuable.

People are not much different when it comes to performing under pressure — the process makes them better. And as anybody who has seen a good trial lawyer in action knows, you can’t fake that.

Rough Edges

Like found diamonds, most people are not shiny, stellar performers the first time they take the stage. It takes some cutting, sharp edges to get them into shape.

In a new book about performing under pressure, Hendrie Weisinger and J.P. Pawliw-Fry say it’s about mitigating the negative effects of pressure.

“Seeing pressure as a threat undermines your self-confidence; elicits fear of failure; impairs your short-term memory, attention, and judgment; and spurs impulsive behavior,” they write.

Instead, the authors say, people should see pressure as a challenge to do better. And rather than worry about the outcome, focus on the task.

Natural Process

Some research suggests that performing well under pressure is not natural, but learned. In making a presentation to a group of people, for example, the process includes:

  • Practicing the basics
  • Reworking the basics
  • Anticipating “what-if’s”
  • Visualizing success
  • Learning from mistakes

So are there “born” performers — those people who seem naturally able to relax and do well under pressure? Well, probably not when they were first born; mostly there was just a lot of crying.

But give them a few years to develop their natural gifts. And like anybody who has to practice anything, including the law, they’ll mature under pressure.

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