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When Pressure Gets Big, the Best Performers Think Small

June 4, 2015 • Uncategorized


The NBA Finals open this week as one of the great pressure cookers in sports. Over my decades of observing athletes and teams who perform at their peak when the pressure is highest, I’ve seen an important pattern.

They think small.

Thinking small helps them absorb intense scrutiny, relax and make success under pressure almost look easy. By thinking small, they are tricking their perception of the pressure and almost eliminating it. They are masters at psychological preparation, and you can copy their habits to perform at your peak in situations where you experience the greatest pressure.

Three examples of thinking small

* Stick to the game plan: Top performers trust in what got them there in the first place. When the pressure turns up, they know they’ve prepared for the moment. NBA MVP Steph Curry puts it this way: “On the big stage, everything slows down… You know it’s do or die, but you treat it like it’s game 27.” Take a page out of Curry’s book and think small—don’t let the enormity of the moment overwhelm you. Have confidence in what’s gotten you this far and trust that you can make the pivots needed to be successful.

* Quiet the noise: Pressure-filled moments are usually accompanied by distractions and external chatter. The best performers find ways to quiet their minds. That’s why you might see NBA superstar Lebron James reading The Hunger Games in the locker room before a playoff game. He clears his mind of clutter by reading books. Quiet the noise by creating a small ritual. For me, that means a 30-minute workout before I hit the stage for a keynote. What cuts through clutter for you?

* Don’t fuel your fears: What starts as energy often turns to anxiety if we don’t channel our emotions positively. Send yourself the right messages and focus on the optimal outcome. Envision success. For a big league pitcher, it’s sitting down the next batter. For you, it might be walking out of the room with a handshake signifying a deal got done. Amy Cuddy’s TED talk on body language reveals how simple mannerisms can give us greater confidence and focus, especially when we need it most. That’s the essence of thinking small to position yourself (literally) for success.

Your Game Changer Takeaway

When the stakes get high, the top performers use small habits and patterns to shrink the pressure to a manageable level. No matter how much stress is around you, what small distractions might help you relax and do what you do best? Thinking small is a key to big success.

The Molly Fletcher Company inspires leaders, teams and organizations to kick-start growth. A keynote speaker and author, Molly draws on her decades of experiences working as a sports agent. Her company offers training and coaching programs to help leaders unleash their potential, including: Game Changer Negotiation Training, which teaches business people a framework for successful negotiating; The Energized Leader training, which teaches people how to manage their energy to achieve focus and freedom; and a monthly coaching program, Game Changer Leadership Huddles, to help members recharge their purpose and mindset. Sign up here to receive our weekly newsletter and subscribe to the Game Changers with Molly Fletcher podcast on iTunes.