The Best Way to Improve Your Ability to Perform Under Pressure

The best way to improve your ability to perform under pressure is to simply get used to pressure. The more you put yourself through pressure situations, the more comfortable you'll be in them. After exposing yourself to pressure situations many times, they'll start to feel less threatening, and your heart rate and anxiety will decrease. As a result, you'll be more confident, and you'll be able to relax and trust your instincts better.

Many times, athletes think that in order to perform well under pressure, all they need to do is train a ton and think positive. However, this is often not enough. It doesn't matter how much your train and how positive you think, if you're not used to performing on big stages, with high stakes and a large audience, then you'll still feel too much anxiety before and during these games. It's not until you get more used to pressure that you start to feel less anxiety and perform better.

Yes, it's very important to train hard and improve mental skills such as positive self-talk, concentration, and visualization, but you also need to expose yourself to pressure. Your ability to perform under pressure is maximized when you actively expose yourself to it while also training hard and improving your mental skills.  

The reason why many athletes don't expose themselves to pressure as much as they should is because of fear and procrastination. They avoid putting themselves in pressure situations because they're afraid of failure. Instead of exposing themselves to pressure, they'd rather wait until "they're ready." So they keep training and training, then once they finally have to perform under pressure, they'll try their best to think positive and get their mindset right before the game. But despite all of this effort, they'll usually find out that the pressure is too much for them. This is simply because they're not used to it. If they would have exposed themselves to pressure earlier, either by practicing under pressure, or by competing in more competitions beforehand, they would have had a much easier time handling the pressure. But since they chose to stay in their comfort zone by just training and training, they weren't fully prepared for the moment.

As you can see, the key to improving your ability to perform under pressure is to expose yourself to pressure more often. However, this means you often need to put yourself in pressure situations even when you're "not ready." This requires you to have the courage to face your fears. Even if you're very nervous, you need be brave and do it anyways. To build this courage, you need to remind yourself that it's better to fail now than in the future, when it really counts. Remind yourself that at some point you're going to have to get outside of your comfort zone. You can either do it now by exposing yourself to pressure before a big game, or waiting until the big game arrives. If you do it now, you'll be more comfortable during the big game. But if you wait til the big game, you'll most likely under-perform.

Here are two of the best ways you can expose yourself to pressure before big games:

  1. Add more pressure to your practices by raising the stakes, or having more people watch you practice.
  2. Compete in real games and tournaments leading up to your biggest games and tournaments. For certain athletes, this isn't always possible. If you can't do this, then you really need to add more pressure to your practices to better prepare yourself for games.
While exposing yourself to pressure is perhaps the best thing you can do to perform better under pressure, it doesn't fix everything. No matter how many times you expose yourself to pressure, you'll still feel anxiety before and during big games. This is natural. You can never fully eliminate your anxiety, but you can manage it. By getting more used to pressure, you'll be able to manage your anxiety better, and once you lower your anxiety to a manageable level, then you can use your positive self-talk and mental skills to embrace the pressure and channel your anxiety productively.

When it comes to gaining pressure experience, you also need to think about the long term. There's only so much you can do to prepare for a big game, but the big game itself gives you the experience you need to perform better in your next big game. Even if you perform poorly during a big game, the experience of playing under intense pressure will help you in future games, because you'll get more used to it. 

However, it is possible that choking under the pressure of a big game can deepen your fear of failure. In general, gaining positive experience performing under pressure will help you more than negative experiences. But with the right attitude, even negative experiences can help you perform better in future games. First of all, choking under pressure can give you the feedback you need to improve your mental game. For example, after choking under pressure, you may learn that you need to work on a specific skill, or that you need to practice deep breathing and positive self-talk. If you actually apply these learned lessons, you'll perform better under pressure next time! You can also say to yourself, "I may have choked this time, but at least I'm more used to the pressure. Next time, I'll feel more comfortable and will perform better as a result."

To improve your mental toughness, you need to trust the process. You may not always perform well under pressure, but if you keep facing your fears, staying positive, and training hard, you'll gradually improve your mental toughness over time!