The good news is that if you can learn to manage the pressure you feel from all this change and disruption, and become open and agile with new technologies, it can become a competitive advantage—for your organization and your career.
Virtual learning, blended learning, on-demand learning, gamification, spaced learning, mobile apps, learning analytics, and virtual reality. The list goes on of new technologies and approaches to learning that we are all expected to know and suddenly become experts in (because we are so agile!). It’s enough to give a Learning and Development (L&D) professional a headache.
In fact, if you are not able to manage the pressure you feel from the disruption happening in the Learning and Development industry, along with all the usual pressure such as deadlines, difficult people, and endless meetings, this pressure can lead to all sorts of negative outcomes. These include poor decision-making, a lack of innovation, reduced efficiency, demotivated teams, less successful project outcomes, and even physical symptoms such as fatigue and tension headaches.
At the Institute for Health and Human Potential (IHHP), a company that has researched and developed training programs for the last 20 years, we’ve been able to focus on classroom training. But with the predominance of the Internet, phones, and our clients’ desire to provide training to people they can’t afford to fly into classrooms, we’ve taken on the challenge of disrupting our own company to move beyond the classroom into virtual learning.
The L&D field is facing the same kind of disruption. The good news is that if you can learn to manage the pressure you feel from all this change and disruption, and become open and agile with new technologies, it can become a competitive advantage—for your organization and your career.
If you are feeling the pressure to adopt virtual learning and new technologies, here are five brain-based strategies, taken from our book, “Performing Under Pressure,” that will enable you to be more agile and open to change:
- Crisis vs. Opportunity. Your brain is wired to view anything new as a crisis. You might start thinking things like “I don’t have the knowledge to do this” or “I’m not good with technology.” When we start seeing the need for new approaches as a crisis, noradrenaline is released into our bloodstream, which reduces oxygen flow to our brain, making it harder to think clearly, process new information, and focus.
In our research and in our experience working with the military, business leaders, surgeons, and athletes, we’ve found that high performers can shift their thinking from seeing things as a crisis to instead look at pressure situations as challenges to overcome or even opportunities. This could sound like “I’ve learned new things before” or “Learning this new technology will be great for my resume.”
When we see pressure moments as opportunities, adrenaline is released into our bloodstream, improving the oxygen flow to our brain, allowing us to use our best cognitive ability and be more open and agile.
- Downsize the Importance. Often, we overstate the importance of a situation: “This is the most important project I’ve ever had to deliver” or “It will be a disaster if I can’t learn this.” The more critical we appraise a situation, the more pressure it creates, leading to distorted thinking, errors, lack of focus, and less skillful behaviors. When you find yourself doing this, lessen the pressure by minimizing the significance of the situation. Think: “I want to deliver this new approach well, but there will be other opportunities if this one doesn’t work out perfectly.”
- You Don’t Need to be Perfect. Unrealistically, people think they need to be perfect, over-perform, or have super-human abilities to succeed under pressure. They don’t. Instead, concentrate on doing your best and learning as much as you can in the process.
- Recall You at Your Best. Science has shown that by visualizing your past successes in similar situations, you stimulate the same type of responses that helped you before. Research shows that the thoughts and behaviors associated with past experiences are imprinted on our brain. The more frequently these experiences are remembered, the more firmly implanted they become, and the more likely they are to resurface in a current experience.
As you are learning something new, think of a time when you successfully had to learn a new approach or new technology and how that felt. By implanting that in your brain, you will be more open to change.
- Regulate Your Breathing. This may sound simple and obvious, but you’d be amazed at how often we let our breathing become irregular, leading up to (or in) a pressure situation. Anxiety speeds up your breathing, forcing you to breathe high up in your chest. By consciously slowing down your breathing and making sure you breathe from the diaphragm, you’ll be able to quickly calm yourself down and better leverage your best cognitive thinking and creativity.
By implementing these five brain-based strategies, you will set your brain up to be more agile, open to new ideas, and increase your creativity. These are critical cognitive abilities needed to be agile in the face of disruptive technologies and new ways of delivering training.
Bill Benjamin is a training and leadership expert at the Institute for Health and Human Potential and a contributor to The New York Times best-selling book, “Performing Under Pressure.” Benjamin is a sought-after speaker on the topics of emotional intelligence and performing under pressure, and is a monthly contributor to CEO Magazine. He works with people in high-pressure environments, including Intel, Goldman Sachs, and the U.S. Marines.