We all like a bit of pressure. At least that is what we tell ourselves. In fact studies have shown that performance improves with pressure. But only to a point.
I have just completed a research project (as part of an MSc) looking at exactly this – what is the relationship between motivation and pressure at work, and how do we keep motivated when pressure is high?
But first a shocking statistic: over 80% of the people interviewed for the research project had their well-being impacted by pressure. The impacts ranged from the relatively minor (eg sleeplessness) to the very serious. So in this globalised, connected, high intensity life that many of us lead, it is vital that we understand the causes of pressure and how we can better mitigate it.
What is pressure?
Pressure is personal – some people find standing up and talking to a group of people terrifying, whereas others like nothing better. As one interviewee put it ‘pressure finds your Achilles heel, your insecurities’ - and this is why it feels like a negative force at times, dragging us down.
The research suggests that there is a direct relationship between motivation and self-belief, and it goes on to indicate that when self-belief is high then pressure is more manageable - you are in control of the pressure and not the other way round. In other words, the key to managing pressure lies in developing self-belief.
The research gets interesting when you start looking at the building blocks of self-belief and, without getting into the deep psychology of it, these can be summarised as:
How do you get pressure under control?
The trouble is that when we are under pressure, the first thing that goes is our sense of perspective, we can’t see the wood for the trees. We become much more inward looking.
And my job, as a coach, is to help bring that perspective back, to reduce the level of introspection, to help you regain control by reflecting on your own experience of pressure, in the here and now. What is causing it? What choices can you make about it?
One of the critical elements in this jigsaw is well-being, and while coaching may help the psychological and emotional side of this, it doesn’t address physical well-being.
Taking exercise, and particularly exercise in groups, was shown to be vitally important to our ability build self-belief and therefore to manage pressure. And the building blocks of self-belief discussed earlier apply just as much outside work as they do at work.
In fact, if I think about self-belief in the context of a group I exercise with - we have shared values, a sense of belonging, we are in control of your own behaviour and goals and we are working on our well-being.
So get healthy, build your self-belief, make some plans and get in control of the pressure.