How to Succeed Under Pressure

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How to Succeed Under Pressure

Have you ever been good at something, but only when nobody else is around?  The moment there is a crowd, or even just one person watching, your skills diminish.  You know that you have the ability to do well at whatever it is that you are doing, but when there is any amount of pressure present, you seem to crumble.

Does this sound familiar?  And how can you get beyond that? 

When I was growing up I had a basketball hoop at the end of our driveway.  I would spend hours out there trying to become the next Larry Bird.  I even had an official “Larry Bird Basketball” that I used so much all of the lettering and grip rubbed off until it was simply a smooth orange rubber ball.  But like anything, the more you practice the better you get.  And I could make some pretty good shots with consistency.

I was able to join some town basketball leagues and play against other kids my age.  I knew I could shoot and I knew I could dribble, but I was never as good as I was at home, sinking one shot after another.  Especially if I was shooting a free throw when all the action was stopped and everyone was just looking at me.  That’s where I really crumbled. 

I let the pressure, which was actually just perceived pressure, get to me.  Nobody except for me and my teammates really cared if I sank that free throw or not.  And most of the people that I felt were watching me were probably not even paying me any attention at all.  I just felt pressure that I let build up in my head.

I have found martial arts to be a great way to overcome this type of pressure situation.  We often do the same drills in martial arts to gain mastery through repetition.  This is not unlike anything else you would want to get good at.  Say the drill is blocking a straight punch coming at you.  As a beginner you start off slow so you can understand the distance and timing needed, and also understand the mechanics of your block.

As you progress in your training, those punches in that same drill will start coming in faster and harder.  Hopefully you are keeping up in your training so you can keep blocking them with consistency and effectiveness.  Then, to take it to a level beyond that, you start moving around in a random sequence and the punches come in at random intervals.  Sometimes the attacker will fake a punch and you have to maintain your stance and concentration to be able to defend for when the real punch is coming in.

When you get comfortable with one level of training, it’s time to switch up the variables.  Find new ways to make yourself uncomfortable and then get good under the new circumstances.

Looking back at my training to be the next #33 on the Boston Celtics, I never changed up those variables.  I got pretty good at what I was pretty good at and stayed there.  I never got pretty good anywhere except for that hoop at the end of my driveway.  Once those variables changed my game fell apart.  What would have happened if I had the martial arts mindset then that I have now?

I’m pretty sure Larry Legend’s records would still have been safe, but I would have at least hit a majority of my free throws.

Thanks for listening.  Train hard and with intent!

-john g

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