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Book Review: Performing Under Pressure

July 14, 2015 | By Dakota Case | comment on this post
Performing Under Pressure
It’s amazing what pressure can do to you.

Performing under pressure — it’s something we’ve all had to do at some point or another. Whether it’s finishing a big project, living up to high expectations, completing a final exam or performing on the field, ice or court when it matters most, pressure can be and often is stressful. However, not all stress is pressure related, and that is a big point that is clarified early on in Part One of Performing Under Pressure, The Science of Doing Your Best When it Matters Most by authors Hendrie Weisinger, Ph.D. and J.P. Pawliw-Fry.

Stress is triggered by the needs and demands of everyday life. It’s the reminder to pay the bills, buy the groceries and get the kids to soccer practice on time. Pressure is what we experience in life’s do-or-die moments — landing a plane without landing gear, making a risky business decision that could affect hundreds or thousands of employees, needing an “A” on a final exam to pass a class or needing a goal with your team trailing 3-2 with just 15 seconds to play in Game Seven of the Stanley Cup Final. Stress is an inconvenience. Pressure is a need to survive. Both serve a valuable motivating purpose.

The authors brought up an interesting point in the chapter defining the nature of pressure in regards to the role cortisol plays in pressure situations. Paired with an additional CRH (corticotropin-releasing hormone), cortisol causes anxiety, which then affects the body’s testosterone production, which in turn causes the brain to focus almost exclusively on all things negative. This in turn causes the brain to see everything as a threat. When we see something as a threat, we tend to play it safe. That’s not necessarily a good thing, particularly through the lens of an athlete when a brilliant drive to the net or a Hail Mary pass could lead to a game-tying goal or game-winning touchdown.

When you take fewer risks in pressure situations, the odds of things getting worse stay the same, but the odds of things getting better can decrease dramatically. In sports, if a team chooses to play it safe and tries not to do anything wrong, players don’t just forget to attack and go for the win – they soon forget to do the things that have made them successful in the first place. In order to get out of that rut, it’s important not to give more credit to negativity than it deserves. You have to move on and not be afraid to fail.

This book also details a number of traps people fall into when dealing with pressure and how to avoid them. In Part Two, the authors also list several helpful and healthy practices to avoid or help reduce the pressure we feel in intimidating situations. Part Three is spent outlining the qualities and best assets (Confidence, Optimism, Tenacity and Enthusiasm) of a person properly equipped to deal with pressure. A person with these attributes stands a good chance to succeed, and the last third of the book is spent guiding readers along the pathway to achieving and mastering these traits.

In the end, Performing Under Pressure teaches readers not to just handle pressure and view it as a crisis, but to welcome it as a challenge and an opportunity. You can find this Crown Business book wherever books are sold. Here at, we approve!

Now it’s your turn. Let us know in the comments below what this book meant to you.

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