MT Expert's Ten Top Tips: Perform under pressure

Whether you're an elite sportsman or a CEO, performing under pressure is all that counts, says Dr Tara Jones.

by Dr Tara Jones
Last Updated: 29 Jul 2011

Northern Irish golf star Rory McIlroy bounced back from a humiliating defeat at the Masters this week to clinch his first major title in the US Open – breaking a host of scoring records on the way.

Although his talent is undeniable, McIlroy’s ability to perform under pressure was what helped him to clinch the title. We asked Dr Tara Jones of performance consultancy Lane4 how mere mortals can achieve McIlroy-levels of calm under duress…

1. Assess and analyse success and failure
Deal with failure and success by scrutinising and understanding the reasons for each – then move on. After his disastrous performance at the Masters, McIlroy tweeted that the day would make him stronger in the end – and he was right.

2. Control the controllables
Accept that there are factors in their performance environment that you won’t be able to influence, then focus on things you can control.

3. Learn from others
After his Masters loss, McIlroy sought advice from two great sportsmen: fellow golfer Jack Nicklaus and tennis star Rafael Nadal. Be comfortable asking others how they deal with highly pressurized situations.

4. Maintain confidence
Even the very best performers have self-doubt, but they regain confidence by focusing on their accomplishments. For example, McIlroy was quick to point out to journalists after his US Open win that he expected to get over the Masters quickly.

5. Feed your self-esteem
Some people are quick to attribute successes to luck and blame themselves when they fail. The best performers attribute their successes to themselves, which allows them to respect and trust their own judgement.

6. Maintain focus

Golfers who focus on not hitting the ball into the bunker often do just that – similarly before a big meeting it is not a good idea to focus on the mistakes that you might make. Remind yourself how well prepared you are and the opportunity that lies ahead.

7. Thrive on the pressure
Working or playing in a competitive environment can be stressful. Don’t let the pressure turn into stress by identifying when, where and why you feel it, and developing strategies to help you control the symptoms.  

8. Take time out
Identify the things that help you to switch off and relax. Techniques such as deep breathing, visualising soothing imagery and taking meditation breaks are extremely helpful in controlling the symptoms of stress – as is identifying factors that exacerbate stressful situations, such as not getting enough sleep or not eating properly.

9. It's not always about the money
McIlroy delayed his entry into the professional ranks to play in the Walker Cup for Great Britain and Ireland in 2007. Extrinsic motivation, such as pay and reward, is unquestionably a source of motivation for many. However, research shows that internal motivation and working for an inherent satisfaction lead to more enjoyment and consequently less pressure.

10. Be passionate about your goals
McIlroy has said he was happy to get his first major out of the way early on in his career, so that he can win many more. Goals that motivate you to achieve your performance expectations are vital, but it’s also important to focus on the process that underpins the outcome, as focusing solely on the outcome only adds to pressure.

- Image credit: Flickr/ ltbeyer

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