Two types of people exist in this world…
those who fold under pressure, and those who rise to the occasion and perform out of their minds.
Which are you?
Most people will choose to stick their tails up their asses and hope someone else takes the initiative.
But not the true greats.
They step up, zone in, and pull off remarkable, sometimes superhuman feats—allowing them the power to land the big sale, deliver an unforgettable speech to motivate the masses, or bring their team home the last-second victory.
How are these mere mortals able to rise up in crunch time and invoke such strength, will, insights, and abilities we (and they) may not even realized they had?
What’s their big secret?
As we know, it’s not always about having the most talent, strength, or even experience…
Because when the chips are thrown down and it’s either win, or kiss it all goodbye, your talent, skills, and abilities won’t mean shit if you choke.
Being someone who always comes through in the clutch is a matter of how well-trained your brain is in reacting to critical situations.
A critical situation, or crisis, is the moment where effective action must be taken or a careful decision must be made. Now.
If your ill-trained brain reacts crudely, you will be robbed of your skill, lose control, lack definite judgment, and appear unsuited for the task at hand.
What we want is to retrain our brains to react effectively to critical situations so we can acquire the skill of “coming through in the clutch”, and unleash the hero within.
What To Do
Step 1: Practice Before Pressure
When a critical situation arises—such as giving a crucial impromptu speech, being tasked with drawing up a strategy to save the company, or substituting in for the injured starting quarterback during a 2-minute drill to bring the team back—if the brain has no similar experience as a reference, it scrounges to come up with effective behavior on the spot.
This can be dangerous. Why?
Because the high-pressure puts your brain in an anxious and restricted state. Over-motivation, panic, and distress interferes with your reasoning process and other cognitive skills—you can’t think clearly.
So your brain doesn’t try to come up with a solution to help you thrive right now, it’s just trying to get you out alive.
Oh, and nothing stimulates the formation and strengthening of deep neural connections in your brain better than a nice dose of intense emotion!
So what have you created here?
Essentially, the solution your clouded brain came up with is far from optimal—and you just burned it into your neural circuitry as your one-response default reference…
Now when faced with a similar situation, if that deeply embedded one-response is restricted in any way, you will struggle to react spontaneously to the uniqueness of the situation. Panic will set in and cause you to choose an even worse course of action, or freeze up and take no action.
what if the brain did have an initial, similar experience to gather information from before it responded? Maybe an experience where the brain was in an effective and flexible state?
When you are relaxed, your brain is more capable of focusing on its goal, initiating action towards that goal, and correcting course until it reaches that goal.
It is open and flexible to devising and learning the optimal way as opposed to cultivating a narrow “get me out of this situation now” mindstate.
Mentally practice your behavior in a critical situation before the critical situation occurs.
Envision yourself able to produce multiple solutions to the crisis, and acting on them in a calm, poised, and confident manner, until your mission is accomplished. And make sure you fully experience the feelings of satisfaction and self-reliance from the success of your decisions!
Now, if a similar crisis occurs, your brain will associate this would-be unique situation with the same mindset as your vividly imagined experience. Thus you will produce similar—and optimal—behavior.
But most importantly, you will become immune to pressure and express calmness, confidence, and clear thinking in the clutch.
Step 2: Be The Aggressor
Tell me, when you’re faced with a highly consequential crisis, do you become nervous? Or do you become excited?
They always say, “A little nervousness is good.”, right?
A little excitement is good.
As it turns out, they are practically the same thing. The only distinction is that nervousness is a label for excitement. And a poor label at that…
It is only when you direct your focus on what could go wrong that your brain labels the physiological sensations of excitement as nervousness.
Nervousness attracts fear and anxiety, which constricts your abilities. Not what we want!
However, remaining completely calm can be difficult.
That’s okay. Because sometimes it will be necessary to get somewhat amped up.
But instead of fighting the physiologically aroused state, or worse, labeling it as nervousness, you can use it to your advantage.
We want the good kind of excitement!
After all, you are about to kick ass and perform feats of remarkable magnitude. This is your opportunity to express your worth. Thoughts of failure serve zero function here—why waste your precious energy being “nervous”?
Remain goal-oriented at all times.
See the crisis as an opportunity to achieve your goals.
But make sure you stay focused on your original, high-level, positive-affirming goals.
Don’t waste energy on the invading, negative goals that try to detract you (e.g. trying NOT to throw an interception, or trying NOT to trip and fall, or trying NOT to stutter). Devoting energy into the negatives makes them more likely to occur!
Apply your aroused state—and its consequent emotions—to your intention. To move toward your goal. To make the most out of the situation.
Remember, when the pressure builds, evasive attitudes and thoughts will destroy you. You must fearlessly recognize the challenge as an opportunity to thrive.
Step 3: Know The Situation
Evaluate critical situations for what they really are.
Usually, they are not a matter of life and death—even though the heat of the moment makes them they feel like they are.
Don’t get me wrong, some situations are this serious, and they should be dealt with accordingly (which is outside the scope of this post)…
No doubt about it though, we humans have a tendency to use our imaginations against ourselves. We love to dramatize the penalty for failing.
Why do we do this to ourselves?
For starters, our brains often react to faulty and distorted information—sometimes pressed upon us, sometimes our own mind’s invention.
When we exaggerate the danger of a situation, we arouse excessive excitement. This surplus, which cannot be appropriately allocated, interferes with our ability to complete the task at hand.
Inappropriate excitement will do more harm than good.
We’ve all been there. We try too hard, expending too much energy (both mental and physical), and forcing the issue. Does it usually backfire on us?
Take executive control of your dramatizations.
Engage your more deliberate, logical brain by analyzing the high-level consequences of the situation.
You can do this by asking yourself, “so what if I fail?”. The key is to see the bigger picture.
“Will I live?” “Will it even matter in a week?” “Can I overcome this if it doesn’t work out?”
I’m not saying be complacent with failing, I’m saying don’t let the over-exaggeration of consequences cloud your judgment and hinder your creative mechanism.
Besides, you will find that most of these critical situations are, in fact, opportunities for advancement.
Transition from an “everything depends on this” mindset to an “I have everything to gain and nothing to lose” mindset. You will feel your excessive excitation, which has taken form as worry and anxiety, fade away. This should leave you with just the right amount of exhilaration to succeed.
- Take mental practice a step further. If possible, physically replicate the situation under minimized pressure and then practice (this is why evacuation drills, exhibition games, and soft run throughs are so effective—yes annoying evacuation drills are more important than you think).