Performance Under Pressure

Athletes competing at their home court win more often, but science suggests it does depend on the quality of the player. This makes sense when you realize that our brain’s stress response has a field day when we have to perform at home. Stress can stimulate performance, depending on whether it is framed as a threat or a challenge. This depends on our mindset. Elite athletes share certain characteristics. They focus on progress rather than perfection. They HATE losing but when they do, they don’t get caught up in negative emotions. Instead, they focus on what they need to improve to win. Interestingly, research shows their brains process information differently from people who don’t have this mindset. This is crucial because mindsets can be changed, which implies you can fundamentally change the way your brain deals with failure.

True champions also have an unwavering confidence in their own abilities. They’re good, and nobody will convince them otherwise. This leads to performance-enhancing stress instead of performance-impairing stress, which impacts behaviour. Positive stress stimulates flexibility, creativity, courage, and critical thinking. These skills are essential in high-pressure situations (like performing in front of our home crowd), because they allow us to remain level-headed. Negative stress leads to ‘what ifs’. What if I fail? What if I’m not good enough? Once the brain is stuck in that negativity bias an exhilarating home race becomes a paralyzing failure waiting to happen.

We’ve seen the champion mindset in Lewis Hamilton for the past 15 years. It’s one of the reasons he’s won the British GP a record-braking 8(!) times. Until Sunday, we could only speculate how well Max would handle the pressure. Quite well, as it turns out! Max truly is one of the next generation’s greats in F1, along with drivers like Lando Norris, Charles LeClerc, Carlos Sainz, and Williams Racing‘s (or, well, I guess Mercedes-AMG Petronas Formula One Team‘s?) George Russell.

There is a lot we can learn from this. Below is my top 3, applicable to well-being in the broadest sense of the word, but specifically related to dealing with situations in which you feel pressured to perform.

1.      Do not focus on proving yourself. Focus on improving yourself.

2.      Mindset matters. Don’t let imposter syndrome push you into a self-fulfilling negative spiral.

3.      Neuroplasticity exists. Our brains are like Play-Doh. Use it to your advantage!

And corporate leaders take note: these things are all relevant from a performance management perspective! LinkedIn’s character limit won’t allow me to elaborate, so I shall leave you with this cliff hanger…