The What If game?

The rules are simple. Select an upcoming high-pressure situation. Let’s say it’s giving an important presentation. Now ask yourself a bunch of what-if questions – what if something bad or unexpected happens? Here are some examples: What if your PowerPoint slides malfunction when you’re presenting to your senior management? What if you are told a minute before you start. You can only have five minutes instead of the expected twenty to make your case.

Anyone can use this technique. If you’re a race car driver, ask yourself, what if on the final lap your car starts to malfunction at 180 mph? Or at school, let’s say your son or daughter is expecting an essay test. Ask them, what if the teacher throws a curve with a multiple-choice test format?

The reason this is a good game to play is because most of us respond to unexpected events in high-pressure situations with a sudden spike in arousal that disturbs our thoughts and actions and throws us off course, sometimes to the point where we can’t recover. He lost his composure is the way sports analysts describe a golfer who can’t recover from a terrible fluke shot.

Expect the Unexpected

The operative concept in this pressure solution is to anticipate the unexpected. It can protect you from a pressure surge by allowing you to prepare for and thus be less startled by the unexpected. Instead of your heart rate zooming and your actions becoming impulsive, you are able to maintain your composure and continue your task to the best of your capability.

Anticipating glitches enables you to work out responses in advance and build your confidence by practicing or mentally rehearsing them. It also teaches you to be adaptive and flexible in any high-pressure moment. Knowing that you can adapt to changing circumstances provides you with a sense of control, no matter what happens.

Our prehistoric ancestors who anticipated the glitch that they might encounter on a hunt gave themselves an edge they wouldn’t be caught off guard if a predator appeared, or if bad weather struck. Anticipating and rehearsing a response eliminates panic.

Try playing the what if game with your staff. Ask them to list their upcoming high-pressure moments, and then give them what-if questions. Play the game with your kids. Even better, teach them to play it by themselves. Like most games, the more you play, the better you get. Those who train astronauts, NFL quarterbacks, and Israeli pilots play it all the time.

You don’t have to be a movie buff to appreciate the quote that endorses this pressure solution: Chance favors the prepared mind.

This is an excerpt from Performing Under Pressure.

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About the Book

Co-authored by our own J.P. Pawliw-Fry, Performing Under Pressure will introduce you to the concept of pressure management, offering the latest science on how your brain responds under pressure, and many empirically tested strategies to help you overcome the sabotaging effects of pressure. For this book, we undertook a multiyear study of over twelve thousand people to answer the question: what is it about the top 10 percent of these individuals that helps them handle pressure more effectively and be successful? The book has been featured in featured in Forbes, INC., The Financial Times, Training Magazine and many more, and is a NYT and Amazon bestseller. Order your copy on Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Audible or Apple ibooks.

About the Author

Dr. JP Pawliw-Fry is one of the founders of IHHP. He co-wrote the NY Times bestseller, Performing Under Pressure, and is sought out by Fortune 500 companies as a keynote speaker. If you want to hear more about how to manage stress and pressure, subscribe to his podcast Last 8% Morning on Apple, Spotify, and Stitcher