How to perform under pressure, shake off self doubt and smash your goals

There’s nothing more frustrating and relatable than feeling like you’ve smashed it one week and underperforming the next.

State of mind, the ability to control how we react – especially when we’re thrust into pressurised situations – have a massive bearing on how we behave.

The question is: How do we take control of the mind and achieve the consistent performance?

Better than ever

Earlier this year we talked about how you could realise your ambitions. How you can develop and nurture new behaviours, and turn them into solid habits. One thing that became super clear from the start was that making change happen relies on the person really wanting to make it happen.

Your mind is a wild animal that need to be tamed.

It’s up to you to put a leash on negative thoughts and performance anxieties, and smash through to the other side.

Calming your inner chimp

You’ve probably heard of the Chimp Paradox.

According to psychiatrist Professor Steve Peters – who’s been commended for his work with big name sports stars and everyday people suffering from mental illness – the model works off a basic principle that our behaviour is defined by three separate parts of the brain:

The Human: Associated with logical thinking and works with facts and truth.

The Chimp: Works with feelings and impressions, acting without your permission!

The Computer: Storage area for programmed thoughts and behaviours.

Although we’ll never take complete control of our Chimp, the idea is that we can consciously manage and train it to react differently in pressurised situations – and these new behaviours will be logged and stored in the Computer.

Peters explains: “The Human and Chimp are two separate thinking machines that independently interpret our experiences. Either of them can take control, but they can work together.”

Becoming aware of our Chimp is the first step towards a calmer, more efficient you. But having the willpower and the motivation to train it is where success really lies.

You can read more about the Chimp Paradox here.

Now let’s move on to some of the tried and tested methods that’ll help you shake off negative thoughts and quash performance anxieties…

Self talk yourself to success

This is a powerful technique, and one that you can practice each and every day.

“We all have ‘a voice’ inside our heads. Yes, all of us! The trick is to ensure it becomes (and remains) your best friend, not your worst enemy,” says Performance coach Simon Calderbank.

“Use positive language and learn how to consistently create powerful and positive thoughts as once mastered, you’ll have the ability to change and control your behaviour for the better.” 

Your inner voice – the one that articulates your thoughts, tells you when something is a good or bad idea and generally narrates everything you do – is not only super impressionable, but also has a massive bearing over how you feel and behave.

It learns and adapts based on our education and our life experiences. Whatever your inner voice tells you tends to be true – but only within the confines of your current reality.

“Whether you think you can or you think you can’t, you’re right.”

Start by defining your goals and pair them with mantras…

“I am always giving maximum effort.”
“I am always ready to challenge myself.”
“I am always confident in my ability.”
“I am always stepping out of my comfort zone.”
“I am always on my A game.”

These are just a few examples to get you started. But you can make yours more specific depending on what you want to achieve! Whether it’s breaking a personal best, entering your first race or taking on that black trail you’ve been thinking about for a while – think long and hard about where you want to go, and how you’re going to get there.

Once you’ve settled on your mantras – you might have 3, you might have 10 (every person and every goal will be different) – memorise them, write them down, stick them on your fridge.

Do whatever’s necessary to keep them top of mind.

Now you’re ready to self talk. Relay your mantras to yourself when you wake up in the morning, say them in your head on your lunch break – make them the last thing you think about before you go to sleep every night. 

Do it until you believe they’re true and your reality will change.

Performance zones

Taking that first step outside of your comfort zone is always the hardest.

We’re naturally resistant to change. After years of bad habits and/or self doubt we form strong connections in our brains that dictate our behaviour (and are notoriously tough to shake off).

Calderbank, who is an Associate Partner to behavioural sciences and talent development company i2i, continues by revealing the best way to kickstart your journey…

“Understand the comfort zones across all walks of your life, be that work, home or in the sporting arena. Only then can you begin the process of stepping outside of them, building and growing them. The trick is working at a pace that suits you…So get to know your skill levels and pressure points to help establish your optimum performance zones. Those out of reach goals will then soon come zooming into view!”

Performance zones are defined by our natural, individual limits of progression. For some people change comes easier than others. Be realistic.    

By now you’ll have a clear ambition, an ultimate goal. But how do you go about reaching it? The path to a better you can sometimes feel more like a mountain that a mole hill.

Break it down

Say you’re running your next half marathon in 6 months and you want to shave 5 minutes off your previous time. When it comes to running, 5 minutes is a long time – but by breaking down your goal into smaller, more achievable ones, it’ll seem far less daunting…

5 minutes over 6 months requires a progression rate of 50 seconds per month.

That’s 12.5 seconds a week.

And 1.78 seconds (give or take) per day.

Doesn’t seem so bad now, does it?

Break through to the other side

Never has the phrase mind over matter been so relevant. Our behaviour in trying, pressurised situations is largely dictated by our thoughts and beliefs.

The only limits we have are the ones we set for ourselves, so make it your aim this year to change the way you look at things by blending intense thought patterns with consistent training.

All good things come to those who wait and, like anything, reaching new highs in your sport will take time. But persistence and determination is a recipe for success that works every time!