Skip to main content

Most people view pressure as unwelcome. But Toronto-based consultant Dane Jensen argues pressure is an invaluable ally in our careers. The key is not to insulate yourself from pressure but to channel its power to beneficial results.

“The power of pressure can propel us to new peaks of performance and higher levels of development,” he writes in his book The Power of Pressure.

He defines pressure as the need to act in the face of important, uncertain circumstances.

Importance is the first driver of pressure since if something doesn’t matter to you it won’t create pressure.

Uncertainty can bring enjoyment or anticipation, such as when reading a novel or watching a television program. But when combined with important issues, uncertainty can create intense pressure.

That pressure can become relentless if a third variable is at play: Volume. In the resilience workshops he runs, participants are asked about challenges or pressures that are draining their energy and impairing performance.

“Volume – or its alter-ego, lack of time – is the first thing people mention more than 90 per cent of the time,” he writes.

That results in his formula: Pressure = importance x uncertainty x volume.

He also sees pressure as having two flavours: Peak pressure moments – short, violent bursts of extreme importance and uncertainty – and the long haul, unending periods of many important and uncertain challenges.

For long-haul pressure, he offers three tools that in turn deal with importance, uncertainty and volume:

Connect with why it matters: To navigate importance, create a clear line of sight from the day-to-day grind to what matters to you most.

“When our daily decisions become disconnected from what matters to us for too long, it is hard to sustain a sense of commitment to the journey,” he says.

Embrace inevitable uncertainty: He has studied elite athletes, navy SEALs and emergency doctors, amongst others, and found high performers embrace the uncertainty they face. They accept there are things they can’t control and therefore might not go their way while at the same time holding a sense of optimism about the future. If they focus on their own actions, they assume everything will turn out as it should.

Consciously fuel and recover: The volume of pressure over the long haul requires sufficient sleep and an intelligent approach to food and movement that supports your energy and emotional balance.

For peak pressure moments, the three tools are:

  • See what’s not at stake: There’s a tendency to lose sight in moments of peak pressure of what won’t change regardless of the outcome. That gives too much weight to what’s at stake, enhancing pressure. “Learning to see the entire picture – both what’s at stake and what isn’t at stake – is vital to regulating emotion and performing well in peak pressure moments,” he says.
  • Take direct action: To tame uncertainty, take action – identify what you can control and then focus on making progress, even if it’s just slight. Keep in mind: You can control your behaviour and mindset but can’t control other people and outcomes. He says in many ways, direct action is the central skill for handling peak pressure.
  • Simplify: Distraction can derail our performance. So when it comes to the volume aspect of peak pressure moments, try to eliminate what’s on your plate and focus completely on what’s directly related to performance. Of course, he concedes, that’s easier said than done.

One fundamental element applies to both long-haul pressure and peak pressure: The ability to put space between trigger and response. Notice what you are feeling, thinking and experiencing before you move to action.

“Central to managing pressure is realizing that we are not our thoughts, we are not our feelings, and we are not our bodies. These are our tools of action in the world, but they don’t define who we are or what we are capable of,” he writes.

For many, such self-observation is mindfulness. He calls it active awareness – being aware of the impact the pressure is having on you and choosing what you will do. It’s a prerequisite for success in handling pressure.

Quick Hits

  • Former Stanford University president John Hennessy, an entrepreneur and now chair of Alphabet, Google’s parent company, says young people are often great at constructing a vision for a new company. But they falter, because of experience, in dealing with the hard parts of implementation: “To coach somebody who reports to you, who has great potential but is not living up to that potential – that’s a really hard thing to do well, so that you don’t either destroy the person or mislead them.”
  • If you are asked a question in a job interview that you don’t know how to answer, career counsellor Lily Zhang says don’t be afraid to take your time and think aloud, since the hiring manager may not be expecting an immediate answer but wants to see how you think through problems. To keep a structure to your answer, use transitional adverbs like “first,” “then,” and “lastly.”
  • Does your manager support your judgment? If not, Fairygodboss career site co-founder Romy Newman suggests it could be time to quit.
  • A body filled with junk food struggles to move well. Similarly, a mind filled with junk thoughts struggles to think well, notes author James Clear. Spend more time searching for better information sources.
  • Beware of unbranded keywords in your marketing. Advertising wizard Roy H. Williams advises that the best online marketers track their branded and unbranded keywords separately because when you follow unbranded keywords – general concepts, but not a brand name or tag line – all the way from the search string to the gross profit made on those sales, you will often find you spent more money on the unbranded keywords than you made on the sales.

Stay ahead in your career. We have a weekly Careers newsletter to give you guidance and tips on career management, leadership, business education and more. Sign up today.