Learn How to Develop Grace Under Pressure
July 26th, 2012 by Dr. Bruce Johnson
Going to college can be exciting, rewarding, life-changing, challenging, stressful, and demanding all at the same time. Students will feel pressure to perform, get good grades, choose a major, decide on a career, compete with their peers, write well, and communicate effectively.
As a student, how you react to these demands often determines how well you are able to cope with them. Do you know how to keep your cool, analyze the circumstances calmly, and develop a plan of action?
While some pressure is helpful for keeping you focused, most of time you’ll find that it needs to be well managed. Developing grace under pressure means you have established a mindset that is capable of tackling these challenges while maintaining your composure and confidence.
Why Pressure Is Beneficial
Many students have described to me the experience of being pressured as a feeling of getting pushed into a corner. Some approach this from a positive perspective and look for solutions, ask for assistance, or make choices about the use of their time and resources. Others do not manage their emotional responses and feelings well, and they reach a point that they can no longer cope and shut down. It is not until you face the pressure of the many demands for your work that you stop to analyze how effectively you handle them. At that time you learn about your strengths and your weaknesses, and you discover if you are adaptable to new challenges.
In a recent Inc. article, Be Graceful Under Pressure: 7 Tips, research conducted by Beilock and Carr of the Department of Psychology, Michigan State University, was discussed. In their report, On the fragility of skilled performance: what governs choking under pressure?, Beilock and Carr found that “pressure raises self-consciousness and anxiety about performing correctly, which increases the attention paid to skill processes and their step-by-step control.” As you begin to become aware of an increased number of challenges or demands, you will find it beneficial to use it as a reminder to be prepared. Students lose their sense of calm when they do not have an immediate answer or they are not prepared to complete a task.
Reducing Some of the Pressures
1. The degree major pressure.
One of the most common pressures that my undergraduate students face is making a decision about their future, especially the career they’ll seek after graduation. The pressure begins when they first have to decide on a degree major. Dr. Kristina Randle, Ph.D. discussed this issue in How To Deal With Parental Pressure To Choose a Major?. Randle’s suggestions for relieving this pressure include exploring the resources available in your school’s career center, finding someone in a career field you are interested in to shadow, looking for internship or volunteer opportunities, and reviewing the Occupational Outlook Handbook, as it provides detailed career-related information.
2. The public speaking pressure.
Sian Beilock, Ph.D., a psychology professor at The University of Chicago, addressed a common classroom situation that finds students losing their composure and confidence, an in-class presentation. Beilock believes that the key to reducing this pressure is to practice your speech ahead of time, not just in front of a mirror but to a supportive group of family members or friends. The purpose is to fully experience the challenges of public speaking ahead of time because once you have faced what you fear the most; you will alleviate your stress and learn to remain calm.
3. The pressure to manage responsibilities.
One of the underlying reasons why students lose their ability to cope with the demands of their school work is that their self-confidence diminishes when they begin to feel overwhelmed. Justin Menkes author of Better Under Pressure believes that “confidence under pressure can be built like a railroad track in the brain through exposure to repeated experiences over time.” Students can learn to feel confident in their ability to handle any situation when they learn to utilize problem-solving skills during times that feel challenging. It takes time and practice, which means that you may not get it right the first time. Confidence is also about knowing how to think on your feet, finding answers and resources, and remaining calm under pressure.
Regardless of the reason why you are feeling pressured, if you maintain your composure and confidently approach any challenge from an objective (problem-solving) perspective, you can minimize subjective (emotional) reactions that have a potential to shut you down. You may not have all of the answers right away, but you will be prepared to tackle any situation without allowing yourself to become overwhelmed.
How to Be Graceful
If you have a plan for dealing with the many potential pressures you are likely to experience as a student, then what does it mean for you to develop grace under pressure? Annie Murphy Paul, author of Origins and Brilliant: The New Science of Smart, believes that the secret to grace under pressure is monitoring your inner dialogue. Any time you are faced with a high-pressure situation you need to guard your thoughts so that you are supportive of your performance and do not create anxiety. For example, instead of telling yourself how important a presentation or exam may be, remind yourself that you are prepared, you are going to do your best, and you look forward to sharing what you’ve learned. The purpose of this self-talk is to increase your self-confidence and minimize any negative thoughts.
Ernest Hemingway said that “courage is grace under pressure.” Sometimes you have to be courageous to make important decisions about your life or simply stand in front of your classmates and deliver a presentation. The key to maintaining composure and grace is to be self-assured about yourself and your abilities. Any time you feel pressured; remember that every task, assignment, challenge, or problem provides an opportunity to learn. You will find more solutions and experience less stress if you can remain calm, composed, and confident.
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