Unbearable, nail-biting pressure. It’s what gives the Olympics its thrill but also its most heartbreaking moments. It’s how excellence is achieved, and at the same time, how hopes are dashed. Consider the career-defining moment this week of Tom Daley and his diving partner Pete Waterfield when, performing their best dive—one they’d aced thousands of times, they choked. One went slightly under vertical, one went slightly over, and the medal slipped from their grasp.
In the BBC online, British Diving’s performance director Alexei Evangulov compares Daley to “underperforming tennis galmourpuss Anna Kournikova” for what he sees as “an over-focus on lucrative commercial activities.” “ ‘The media exposure meant she never got to be the best,’” Evangulov is quoted as saying.
My point is this (and yes I have one): You may never have to perform at the top of your game in front of the Prime Minister, nor do you stand to gain or lose millions in endorsements. But you do experience these two conflicting needs in your own life and on a regular basis: One, to beat out the competition; and two, to win the love and approval of others.
What are you focused on?
What do you feel pressure to do? Earn more money, find the right opportunity, cover your family’s expenses, perhaps outdo your cohorts at work, or keep up with the Joneses? Sometimes you’re head to head with someone else; sometimes it’s you against yourself. If you could just focus on it, and say, had the luxury of an Olympic athlete of spending all of your time perfecting one skill, that’d be one thing. But there’s also a need we all have for people to like us, not to feel threatened or offended by us. We know that being accepted and liked across the board matters. And obviously, Olympians are no less immune to these pressures.
Ask yourself this question
So this week it’s worth asking yourself: Where in your life is a desire to please, to be liked, affecting and detracting from your focus? Do you feel a need to be more popular than powerful? To be approved of rather than rock the boat? Can you identify what is providing positive stress (which motivates and focuses) and what’s compromising it? Perhaps the need to have your boss like you more than promote you, or your mother to agree with you than to have a difficult but worthwhile conversation?
In short, identify where your desire to appeal to and agree with other people (coworkers, family, friends) is negatively affecting your ability to do what you do best.
Remember, stress isn’t all bad. Without it, there would BE no Olympics. There would be no point in striving for a difficult and worthwhile goal. Where you likely stand to improve your life has less to do with how you completely vanquish stress (good luck with that) and more about how you use it and respond to it.