Coaching World Issue 13: March 2015 - Page 22

they’ll want to avoid them. After all, humans are hardwired to avoid distress. It is easy to understand why pressure is inherently threatening when you consider that in humankind’s early “pressure moments,” failure to perform could be fatal: If you didn’t make the leap from one mountain ledge to another, there was no second chance. The notion of “succeed or perish” was not far-fetched. In today’s world, most pressure moments won’t have life-or-death consequences. Furthermore, the emotional responses that helped our ancestors stay alive (e.g., fear and anxiety) can actually deter your client’s ability to perform effectively and achieve her goals. Often, individuals threatened by pressure will make excellent progress toward their goals, until the moment in which they must “deliver the goods,” and take the step that will yield a true change (e.g., confronting a teammate, quitting a job, filing articles of incorporation for a new business). Perhaps you’ve had a client say, “I know what I have to do; I just have to do it.” This roadblock may represent an attempt to sidestep pressure rather than meeting it head on. As a coach, you can support your client in reframing action as an opportunity or challenge, thereby increasing the likelihood that she’ll successfully move forward and achieve her goals. 22 Coaching World Understanding Pressure Moments Pressure moments are situations where individuals perceive that something at stake is dependent on their performance. Pressure moments typically share three characteristics. Recognizing and understanding these characteristics can help you and your client recognize pressure moments and respond accordingly. Pressure moments are associated with situations your client perceives as very important: The higher the perceived importance, the greater pressure your client is likely to feel. The more (or more urgently) your client brings up a particular situation during your coaching conversations, the more likely it is that she’s assigned a high level of importance to it. Pressure moments are also associated with situations where there’s an element of uncertainty about achieving desired outcomes. Finally, pressure moments are associated with those situations where a client feels that the burden of responsibility for the outcome is hers alone—whether or not this is in fact true. Recognizing these common denominators of a pressure moment and educating your client about them can lead to powerful new insights about why and how she experiences pressure in a particular way, and what she can do to address the experience proactively. Relief Valves Earlier, I used the example of shortstop Derek Jeter, whose lifetime and playoff batting averages demonstrated his consistency in the face of pressure. However, Jeter was an exception rather than a rule. The reality is that many individuals do choke under pressure and perform below their average capacity. One reason for this is the development or “worry cognitions,” or thoughts that spur immense self-consciousness (e.g., “How am I doing? What is my supervisor thinking? What will happen if he doesn’t agree with me?”). These thoughts can take an individual off-course by monopolizing working memory space and causing him to forget crucial information or lose a train of thought. Additionally, the distressing feelings pressure generates, such Invite your clients to engage in creative brainstorming to identify other tactics and strategies they can use to thrive in (rather than succumb to) pressure moments. as anxiety, fear of failure, stress and embarrassment, can disrupt every aspect of performance. If your client can minimize these distressful feelings and rid himself of distracting worry cognitions, it’s more likely that he’ll be able to stay focused and increase his chances for success not only in the pressure moment, but every day. There are dozens of evidence -based strategies that can help individuals reduce distressful feelings associated with pressure moments, stay focused and guide their behavior toward a successful outcome. Sian Beilock, a professor in The University of Chicago’s department و