Should You Reduce Your Stress, Or Seek Higher Pressure Levels?
Whatever arena you find yourself in, and in whatever discipline in which you are performing, do you sometimes wish things were easier? Do you wish that your life had less stress? Do you wish you had ways to reduce the stress? Earlier in their career, many people may have dreaded pressure, suffered from it, and even tried to avoid it. But ultimately, they came to terms with pressure and even came to embrace it. Now, as career veterans, they realize that pressure is a privilege and that pressure helps them perform better. Discover why you should not hope for an easy life. You should strive to be a strong person.
Should You Reduce Your Stress,
Or Seek Higher Pressure Levels?
Bill Cole, MS, MA
Founder and CEO
William B. Cole Consultants
Silicon Valley, California
I like pressure. Pressure doesn't make me crack. It's enabling. I eat pressure, and there might be times when I get a bad feeling in my gut that this might be too much, but you feel pressure when you're not doing something, you know?
Louis C. K.
I pride myself in being able to survive just about any situation on stage now. I can handle pressure.
When you're headlining, people are paying to come see you specifically. It's a different kind of pressure, because you've got to deliver. You've got to give these people what they paid for. It's a different mind state, a different type of mentality, but it's honestly a pretty good problem to have, you know?
The pressure to being a comedian is being funny, but I've given that up, so there is no pressure whatsoever.
A few years ago, Hollywood called me to create, write and produce a series of TV pilots centered around my work as a mental game coach. We built an excellent creative and production team, and we ultimately put four excellent TV pilots in the can, as they say. In one of the pilots, I was coaching an up-and-coming stand-up comedian. We shot the pilot at The Improv in Hollywood California, and the show turned out fantastically.
You may notice the quotes above are all from comedians who have come to deal with pressure in positive ways. Earlier in their career, they may have dreaded pressure, suffered from it, and even tried to avoid it. But ultimately, they came to terms with pressure and even came to embrace it. Now, as comedy veterans, they realize that pressure is a privilege and that pressure helps them perform better.
How about you? You may not be a standup comedian and you may not even be in the entertainment business, but in school or in sports and in your career I’m sure you encounter certain degrees of stress and pressure.
Whatever arena you find yourself in, and in whatever discipline in which you are performing, do you sometimes wish things were easier? Do you wish that your life had less stress? Do you wish you had ways to reduce the stress?
Let me pose this scenario to you.
How can someone find themselves in a chaotic, crazy, wildly stressful environment that appears to be spinning out of control, but they can remain calm, self-possessed and in control? In effect, they’re the calm center of the hurricane. Yet the people around them are bouncing off the walls with stress.
We can characterize stress as an external force. We can also characterize anxiety as an internal phenomenon. Anxiety is not an entity hiding behind a tree waiting to jump onto your back. If stress was guaranteed to affect everyone the same way, then in a stressful environment, all people would be similarly full of anxiety. But this is not so. In a chaotic, stressful environment, some people are negatively affected by the stress, and others seem to be barely affected. Indeed, some people even thrive.
If you are able to laugh in the face of danger, or to chuckle at your misfortunes, you are separating yourself from the external stress that you experience. In fact, you are keeping the stress external and away from yourself while keeping yourself calm and in control inside. This way the stress does not intrude and upset you.
Imagine a family taking their young kids to a Halloween party event that has a scary gallery of people in costumes, and the entire family walks through the gallery. Why is it that the adults tend not to be afraid of the ghosts, goblins and monsters that appear? The children are usually absolutely terrified. To the little kids, the scary entities seem all too real. The parents have learned to “laugh in the face of danger”, because they’ve been through these sorts of things before and they know that it’s all made up and not really dangerous in any way. The little kids are not too sure about all that, and they tend to take what they see at face value. Using our internal-external model of stress and anxiety, the parents don’t allow the stress to come inside them. They stay self-contained and calm and maintain an amused stance with the whole experience. The kids allow the stress to come inside them which converts into anxiety because they don't yet have the cognitive abilities to recognize that what they're seeing and hearing is not real.
When it comes to performing better under pressure, such as in academic and professional examinations, acting, public speaking, sports, interviewing, or any critical performance venue, the object is not to reduce the stress. The object is to reduce the anxiety. In these situations, the stress is what it is. If the examination is a high-stakes, make it or break it, do or die test, you better pass the test. No one can go to the examining board and ask them to make the examination easier.
Does the surgeon go into the operation hoping that things will be simple and easy and smooth? Sometimes yes. But a surgeon hopes for the best and plans for the worst. A surgeon always has back up plans and workarounds in case something goes wrong. Should a student go into an examination hoping that it will be a simple cakewalk? This is not a good mindset because if the exam turns out to be stringent and challenging, the student will be shocked, and disappointed that they didn’t have it as easy as they expected. Should a tennis player show up for a tournament hoping that their opponent will be weak or that the opponent will be having a bad day? Hopefully not. If the opponent actually turns out to be quite good and playing well, then the tennis player will be in shock, and they may find it quite difficult to recover well enough mentally to compete properly.
The take away from these examples is that we should not hope for an easy life. We should strive to be a strong person. We should not hope for an easy examination, an easy opponent, or a low stress situation. In circumstances where stress and pressure is a given, it’s unhelpful to wish things were easier. We should instead hope that we are equal to the task ahead of us. My job as a stress management coach and mental wellness coach is to help my clients to be able to handle ever-higher levels of stress and pressure. I tell them my job is not to reduce their stress, but to increase their ability to handle more stress.
One question I ask all my younger clients in particular is this. When you grow up and begin your working career would you like to have a job that pays you a lot of money, medium money, or minimal money? Invariably, almost every single person answers--a lot of money. Then I ask them, do organizations pay a lot of money for easy, simple, low-pressure jobs, or do they pay the most money for jobs that are difficult that have higher degrees of stress and pressure? Again, invariably, virtually everyone answers that the big money goes to the people who can handle the pressure. Presenting this scenario brings home the point to people that if they want to have a quality life, to do interesting things, to get the big rewards, and to be proud of what they do, they need to be able to handle higher levels of stress and pressure.
So now, perhaps our original premise makes much more sense. Your job in life is not to reduce your stress to make things easier for you. Your job, if you want to have an interesting and fulfilling life, is to toughen yourself up so you can handle higher levels of stress and pressure.
“That which does not kill me makes me stronger.”
Friedrich Nietzsche, existentialist German philosopher
Bill Cole, MS, MA. All rights reserved.
Bill Cole, MS, MA, a leading authority
on peak performance, mental toughness and coaching, is founder and
CEO of William B. Cole Consultants, a consulting firm that helps
organizations and professionals achieve more success in business,
life and sports. He is also the Founder and President of the International
Mental Game Coaching Association (www.mentalgamecoaching.com),
an organization dedicated to advancing the research, development,
professionalism and growth of mental game coaching worldwide. He
is a multiple Hall-Of-Fame honoree as an athlete, coach and school
alumnus, an award-winning scholar-athlete, published book author
and articles author, and has coached at the highest levels of major-league
pro sports, big-time college athletics and corporate America. For
a free, extensive article archive, or for questions and comments
visit him at www.MentalGameCoach.com.
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