I’ve written before about pressure. Pressure at work, pressures from family and society, pressure which we heap on ourselves to be a certain weight or have a certain level of material wealth. Search for pressure on Google Images and you’ll find an array of beautifully designed messages all pushing the same message “Pressure Makes Diamonds”.
And diamonds are beautiful, right? Diamonds are desirable. Diamonds represent something to aspire to. And so it goes on. This message teaches us to continue to put pressure on ourselves. It teachers our teachers to keep putting pressure on our kids and it teaches our managers to pile on the pressure at work.
So where are all the diamonds? Why is there so much stress? So much unhappiness. So much low self-worth? Ahh not enough pressure! Keep pushing. Keep trying harder. Keep….making it worse.
But if pressure doesn’t make diamonds and doesn’t make us better people then why would the saying come about? Why would we do it? Why would we read of adventurers & entrepreneurs pushing themselves to incredible limits and achieving?
IT’S BECAUSE PRESSURE WORKS FOR SOME PEOPLE AND NOT OTHERS!
Ah yes, simple when you think about it. Let me tell you about a couple of instances that happened to me this week.
Ten Pin Bowling
Half term found my brother, sister-in-law, myself and our two little ones at a ten-pin bowling alley. My brother correctly chose to put up the bumpers (barriers to stop the ball going into the side gutter) for our sons, but as an adult it didn’t cross his mind to do that for me. I know I usually have them and I know at aged 43 I probably shouldn’t but hey I went with it. 10 bowls in and I finished my game with a score of 29!! I know, I know – dreadful. So for our second game I asked if I could have the bumpers up for me. Happy to have my score not counted or put as last, but I was here to be happy with my family not stressed at how awful I was doing! Up they went and this time I scored 92. Yay! The bumpers worked. Actually no, in the traditional way, of protecting my ball from going in the gutter they didn’t work at all. None of my balls that knocked down pins touched the bumpers at all – they went straight down the middle.
You’re scratching your head right? How is that possible? If I can bowl straight why didn’t I the first time? Well, the first time I stood up, I felt a bit panicked as I didn’t want to be embarrassing. I tried so hard. I sent the bowling ball off down the gutter and red faced I ran back to my seat hoping no-one had seen. Each go I felt worse as my score was getting further and further behind and each go I was rubbish!
The second go, I had no fear that the ball would go off into the gutter, I knew I would get a ball to the pins, I had no stress, no worry, no care of embarrassing myself and I bowled the ball straight and confidently. Because the pressure that I put on myself the first round, had gone.
Those of you who know me or who have read my blogs before will know that I did a couple of triathlons a few years back and my nemesis in this was the swimming. Every week for a year I got my miserable self down to the pool, fought the churned up stomach of anxiety and thrashed my way through 20-30 lengths. I swallowed water, I coughed and spluttered. Once I was nearly sick and on the trial triathlon day I got out of the pool in tears.
I used to get in that pool dreading every second. I used to time myself, count the lengths, extrapolate the times into what I might achieve on the race day. Beat myself up about how slow I was. Read books and watch You Tube videos on improving technique. I even had a few lessons which gave me so much more to think about I panicked and swallowed even more water. I hated it.
The day I achieved the swim part of my second (and final) triathlon I said to the staff in the bike section that I was never swimming again. What a relief!
So yesterday, 2 years after that relief, I found myself looking at the weather, saying No to my usual Sunday bike ride and thinking “Maybe I might go to the pool and try a swim.” So that’s what I did. I had no plan for how many lengths I’d do. I had no time limits. Nothing to achieve, no-one watching me, nothing to critique. And 60 lengths later I got out – feeling calm, and knowing I could have gone on and on if I had felt like it.
How the hell did I achieve 60 lengths when after a year’s training the most I could do was 40 and that made me feel like I was slowly killing myself?!?! Ahh there was no pressure.
There’s a theme here, right? In me pressure = anxiety and panic. Anxiety and panic = stress. Stress negatively affects my performance. SERIOUSLY negatively affects my performance.
I know I’m someone who likes to achieve. I know I’m someone who will go outside my comfort zone until it’s comfortable there BUT I also knew that anxiety affects me and stress does not motivate me. Here were two really clear examples of this and it’s been useful learning for me.
How does this affect you?
You can learn from this. Who are you? How does pressure affect you? What changes might you need to make to ensure that you are adding or removing pressure appropriately to get the best from yourself?
But also, how do the people around you respond to pressure? Maybe you have two children and you treat them the same – perhaps one responds well to pressure and one doesn’t? What about those kids at school? Are they people who excel in being in the top graded class and that motivates them to push harder in their studies or are they someone who would do better in a class where they are top of the pile? Does the pressure motivate them or crush them?
And at work? Your staff and your colleagues. Don’t think about you and whether you apply pressure or not. It’s not about you. You need to know and understand the people around you and adapt your style to what people need. Apply pressure when required but reduce pressure and replace it with support where people are crumbling. You may find that the changes in you and those around you make a staggering difference. Do let me know!