Diamonds are formed under pressure, and so are many of the most successful people. Those we think of as high achievers typically have some “magic tricks” and proven techniques they use to perform well under pressure.
Professional athletes tend to be high achievers, and many of them rely on certain strategies to relax under pressure, sharpen their focus and perform their very best.
We all experience stress and have times when the pressure seems to be bearing down too hard. But drawing inspiration from pro athletes, you can learn to handle pressure like a pro — whether that means playing your favorite sport, performing in front of a crowd, doing your best work professionally or seamlessly running your household.
Breathe Slowly and Deeply
Breathing slowly and deeply helps us think clearly, make better decisions and focus on the present moment. Our breath connects us to the here and now.
Notice how Magic players take slow, deep breaths before shooting a free throw. Before the moment they dribble and aim the ball at the basket, they consistently take their time to settle themselves with their breath in order to sharpen their focus.
It’s common to experience heightened anxiety before performing, which can quicken our breath and make it shallow. Chest breathing prevents oxygen from getting into your bloodstream and brain. That’s why it’s all the more important to consciously take slow, deep breaths from your belly when you’re under pressure.
Choose a Point of Focus
A point of focus is a fixed reference point somewhere in your field of vision to look at when you've lost control of your emotions or your body. It’s a reminder to redirect your focus back onto getting ready for what’s next.
“Keep your eye on the ball” is a phrase often used in sports and as an analogy for staying focused on any activity. Basketball players must keep their eyes focused on the ball and the basket, but might look at a certain part of the goal as their focal point to help them concentrate when the moment comes to take aim. They visually imagine sinking that bucket as they let go of the ball; their eyes follow through, and — swish!
Notice the Sensations in Your Body
Developing your awareness of the sensations in your body can help improve your focus and bring you back to the present moment. Examples include focusing on the nature of the sensation, such as tingling or aching. Then notice how it feels. Is it pleasant or painful?
The advantage of noticing your physical sensations is grounding yourself in the “now” as experienced through your body. Some athletes have rituals like clapping their hands, tugging on a wristband or tapping their temples to deliberately create a sensation to bring them back to the moment. Pick something meaningful to you and try it next time you feel the pressure to perform.
Have a Reset Ritual
We all make mistakes. It’s what we do with them that determines our outcomes. Having a reset ritual for mistakes can be effective to help you visualize a clean slate. Some athletes have spoken of visualizing flushing a mistake down the toilet for a total reset in perspective. Other ideas are imagining the rain washing you clean, an eraser cleaning up the errors and so on. It’s a way to rid yourself of any negative thoughts about something that didn’t go as planned and to refocus. Find a method that works for you.
Use Positive Self-Talk
Our own voice acts as a guide. It influences our mood, confidence levels, learning ability, accuracy and more. Research shows that self-talk is consistently positive in relation to performance improvements. Being aware of what you're thinking about helps you recognize if your thoughts are off-path. That allows you more control over your attitude and helps to bring your attention back to the present.
You don’t need to exclusively think positive. Using self-talk effectively also means noticing the unproductive thoughts and letting them go.
Do You Believe in Magic?
By using these simple tips consistently, a magical thing starts to happen. You gain confidence, feel more in the moment and you notice you’re performing better and better, especially under pressure.
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