“The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result.”

While this quote is usually attributed to Albert Einstein, the source is actually questionable. However its wisdom is not – most people would agree that “doing the same thing over and expecting a different result” is going to be a zero sum approach in the majority of situations.  In fact, this what happens all too often under pressure.  In the real world, people under pressure often resort to emotionally driven behavior or familiar approaches they have used before that are ineffective. Research at The Institute for Health and Human Potential has proof:

“One of most important findings of IHHP’s 7 year study of 12,000 managers and leaders in high pressure situations is that most people take a ‘haphazard approach’ to managing pressure. They don’t use the latest advances in neuroscience (how does pressure affect the brain?) or sport science (what does pressure do to behavior?) to inform how they approach the pressure associated with change and performance expectations.”

Other research also shows that our world is getting increasingly stressful and contributing to more frequent pressure situations for people to deal with.  Here is one example:  “Stress increased 18% for women and 24% for men from 1983 to 2009, according to researchers at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh.” (USA Today story, June 2012)

So if a haphazard approach, emotional behavior or trying to improvise a response are not effective strategies, then why do they keep happening under pressure? Brain science helps us to understand how we can get caught in the trap of doing the same thing over and over again.  There are two key ‘brain systems’ at work for us. Our Limbic ‘emotional brain’ is wired to keep us safe first and foremost.  Our Cognitive ‘thinking brain’ is where our best thinking abilities reside – our expertise and experience live here.  So while the latter has more range, the former is actually faster and can cause a temporary ‘override’ to ‘feel before we think’ creating interference under pressure.  When that happens and if we don’t intervene, then we can default to emotionally driven behaviors that may have kept us safe under pressure in the past but may not be at all effective or what we need in the present.  In other words, we may do the same thing over and over but there is very little likelihood of a different result!

There is another challenge with how our brains respond to pressure.  At IHHP, we have also learned that “…while many people believe that some people perform better under pressure, the research is clear that no one performs better under pressure. Pressure diminishes the key faculties – judgment, decision-making, attention, emotional management – required to perform the activities of management and leadership.”

When our two brains are not working together effectively, how can we possibly expect to be at our normal, required level of ability and capacity?  Yet with the amount of pressure that individuals and Organizations are increasingly experiencing, it has never been more important to do so.

Stop the Presses because there is very good news – it doesn’t have to be this way!

“I reserve the absolute right to be smarter today than I was yesterday.”

– Adlai Stevenson II

Learning to perform under pressure can help us to be smarter today than yesterday.  The key is to ‘optimize our brain’ so we can use our abilities and experience and have the capacity to perform under pressure.

IHHP has the Pressure Training and Coaching Curriculum to help people to do that. The benefits of optimizing our brain to perform under pressure are many.  Specifically, we offer programs in 3 specific areas that help people to maximize the way that they respond to pressure.

  1. Performing Under Pressure: The Science of Emotional Intelligence

Under pressure, we need to manage and leverage the Emotional Brain (limbic system) to collaborate with our thinking brain and prevent it from creating interference that otherwise would lead to interfering with our cognitive abilities. Optimizing our emotional brain is important to leverage the interaction between the two systems (emotional and thinking) rather than them working in opposition to each other.

“This program helps people to understand what it means to recognize, manage and connect with emotions ensuring people feel heard, valued and understood (the foundation of empathy). When this occurs, people choose to give their discretionary effort and are able to influence/lead the efforts of others.”

  1. Performing Under Pressure: Doing Your Best When it Matters Most

As already mentioned, our best abilities are accessed from our Thinking (cognitive) brain. There is important opportunity here – how we perceive pressure can make or break our effectiveness to operate under it.  People can learn how to think about pressure differently and deploy strategies to make the most of their expertise and experience as well as to access skills and tools.

“This program helps to identify high pressure moments where performance success and productivity execution are at risk. Helps leaders identify and change management approach under pressure; motivating teams by using strategies that challenge and create urgency, without creating crisis or a pressure filled environment.”

  1. Performing Under Pressure: The Three Conversations of Leadership

How we talk to each other matters – a great deal!  With ever increasing stress and pressure, the costs of poor communication under pressure can be significant and expensive. Research from the Gallup Organization has found that “People leave managers, not companies.” In other words, people need to have effective, respectful conversations under pressure.  After laying the foundation for an optimized brain under pressure, this program helps us to have those requisite conversations.

“This program will help people: Effectively conduct daily, difficult and courageous conversations that cultivate teamwork, build connected relationships, help global, highly matrixed and virtual teams learn to influence and collaborate while managing both relationship and results.”

Click here to learn more or talk to one of our Leadership Consultants to find out more about how our Training and Coaching can help you and your Organization to be ‘pressure ready’ and realize the benefits of being smarter today (and tomorrow) than yesterday!

John Doan – I.H.H.P. Lead Coach.
John is an Executive, Leadership and Team Systems Coach who supports leaders literally all over the world by helping them develop their Emotional Intelligence, build better working relationships and to communicate more constructively under pressure.