One of the first lessons you have to learn, in terms of keeping your focus, is to only try and control the controllables. High performers realise that some circumstances are just out of their control. If a piece of technology fails before an important presentation, there's nothing you can do. Don't sap your energy thinking about all the variables that could affect your performance - that way danger lies. Focus on tthings that you can do. Make sure you know your presentation without the slideshow, hone your delivery, and even make a joke or two to show that you are relaxed and unruffled. Apply this mindset to all areas of your professional life, focusing on the elements that you can control.
In order to make the best of the elements that you can control, it's important to know what you're good at. Focus on your strengths and concentrate on how you want to perform; the outcome will usually take care of itself. That said, there can be a positive power to negative thinking that can spur you on to be even better. Olympic hopeful Rebecca Adlington says she has a 'continuous battle' to work on her weaknesses – this helps her prepare to perform.
However, there comes a time that you must concentrate on your strengths – knowing your competitive advantage. Remember what you’re good at, and how hard you’ve worked to be good at it, and you will come across as knowledgeable and confident.
There are times when your mind and body don't work in sync, however. Even when you know that your pitch is word-perfect, the symptoms of pressure can appear: high levels of adrenaline, the shakes, a dry mouth. Being able to harness this to work to your advantage is key by getting yourself into your ideal performance state, where best performance will become automatic. For some, this is by using simple techniques such as breathing and visualisation. A useful breathing exercise that you can practise anywhere is to keep your mouth closed and breathe through your nose only, taking five or six seconds to inhale, holding your breath for three and exhaling for about eight seconds. Concentrate on this slow and steady breathing pattern for a minute or two and feel your inner calm return.
Wil James is a sports psychologist and principal consultant at performance consultancy Lane4.