I’ve got pressure on the brain!

anxiety & fear mental skills Jul 15, 2021

I’ve been considering the concept of pressure a lot lately - mostly because I am finishing up a Masterclass offering on the subject and using the Q-Members as my test subjects - lucky them!

I think what’s interesting about pressure is that it’s not a skill per se, but something we adapt to and even build up a tolerance for. Some of us need more pressure than others to perform at our best, while others fall apart when the pressure is too much.

So what is it we are adapting to? What is pressure?
The original concept is borrowed from physics and speaks to the force applied to an object - us being the object in this case! Pressure can be internal - what we put onto ourselves - or external as other people pressure us.

The problem with coming up with a clear-cut definition is that pressure feels different to everyone and affects each of us very differently. Most of us feel the pressure of a situation in our bodies, typically the head, heart, or stomach. Pressure gives some people a headache while others may feel sick to their stomachs - it’s all very individual.

For handlers, we typically put pressure on ourselves to Q in a given run. For whatever reason, we decide that a particular run is more important or more needed somehow, and that pressure comes from within. At that moment, we are focused on an outcome goal or a specific result.

It’s not uncommon - or even unrealistic perhaps - to expect a particular result from a specific performance in the ring. However, we know we need to put together the performance that will get us there, and that’s where doubt creeps in. Do we have the confidence? Can we perform consistently? Can we execute a skill we’ve been honing when we need it?

Pressure creeps in through these cracks and, in some ways, becomes a trigger. We begin to feel the pressure of the moment, and seemingly suddenly, we are focused on how we feel instead of what we need to do. Physiologically, this tiny sliver of doubt turns into fear, and our body responds appropriately.

Now, there are a million and ten triggers for fear, but we’re talking about pressure here. So the difference is in the trigger and in you developing the self-awareness to recognize pressure and be ready with some intervention tools.

Time to intervene

So, what do you do when the pressure is too much? When is the pressure negatively impacting your performance?

First, you have to remember that when you get to this point, your body is experiencing fear, and in this state, your mind and body aren’t balanced, and therefore, you cannot perform - mentally or physically - at your best. In short, getting control of your response is imperative.

  1. Breathing - a quick but genuine breathing exercise will tell your body that it’s safe and make you feel more in control. Box, triangle, or any breathing exercise will do the trick!
  2. Move - the old saying, “walk it off,” is true here. Move your body and expend some of that pent-up energy - preferably without your dog.
  3. Distract - you need to change what you’re thinking about - change the channel. Get some water, sing a song, or talk to a friend.

The final powerful intervention is setting the right goals. As long as you are focusing on the outcome or result, you’re not reducing pressure; you’re feeling it. Your focus needs to be on process goals, the things you are in control of 100%, and know that you can execute. When you refocus onto process goals, you change the conversation in your brain, and you put yourself back in control.

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