August 7, 2017
Biz Books

How to succeed in high-pressurized workplace situations

"When the Pressure's On — The Secret to Winning When You Can't Afford to Lose" by Louis S. Csoka (AMACOM, $24.95).

When "it" hits the fan, dealing with the situation has far more to do with managing stress than your skills. In the workplace, "it" often results from stop-that-do-this, dysfunctional teams, reorganizations and unrealistic expectations and deadlines. All such situations create stress because they involve decisions that were out of your control.

What can you control? Your reaction. A threat reaction triggers emotionally based negative self-talk, which "affects your cognitive function, analytical abilities and the ability to think clearly and rationally." You spend more time worrying about things that can go wrong than about how to improve your situation. It's a self-defeating, woe-is-me-I-know-I-can't mindset that leads to inaction, not achievement.

A performance reaction, on the other hand, identifies the things you can control and focuses your attention and efforts solely on those things. With such a reaction, your emotions don't control you. You're self-motivating and thrive on doing things differently and doing different things. You recognize that dealing with discomfort allows you to push the bounds of your comfort zone outward.

Csoka developed a 5-point program for achieving performance excellence:

1. "Goal Setting" — Knowing your mission (i.e. what you must accomplish) focuses on what you expect of yourself relative to where you want to be. Csoka quickly points out that simply having a list of goals isn't enough. You must affirm your goals with specific and measurable everyday actions. You must revisit them often to gauge progress and remind you of what's left to be done.

2. "Adaptive Thinking" — When you become aware of a negative thought, mentally say "stop." Give yourself a few moments to think about how that negativity will affect your ability to achieve your goals. With no-progress-toward-goal in mind, "replace the negative thought with a positive counter-thought." Believing "I can" sets the tone for what you will do to stay on point. With practice, the counter-thought will come to the forefront quickly.

3. "Stress and Energy Management" — Peak performers "want the ball" when the game is on the line; they use pressure as a motivator. Where others see danger, they see opportunity. They're confident that they're up to the challenge.

They also know when their candle burns at both ends, and can step back and take a breath. Actually, a few breaths: a two-minute paced-breathing exercise — four-second inhale and six-second exhale — calms the mind. To calm the body, you can tense (while inhaling deeply) and relax (while exhaling fully) each muscle group; regular exercise helps, too. There are numerous stress-management apps available; you can incorporate them into your workday routine.

4. "Attention Control" — This deals with the myth of multi-tasking, which leads to the workplace version of attention deficit disorder. According to a Wall Street Journal study, "office workers are interrupted — or self-interrupt — roughly every three minutes. When learning to deal with interruptions, don't think about blocking them out because "blocking" will be at the front of your mind. Instead, remind yourself of what's important — the task at hand.

5. "Imagery" — Visualize what things will look like when you achieve your goals. The cool thing about a brain: It can't distinguish between real and visualized events. "If the images are 'real' enough, they can produce the same feelings or actions as the actual object or activity being imagined. Example: Have you ever awoken from a nightmare to find yourself sweating and trembling?

By visualizing your goals, you begin living them.

Advice: Take the "Peak Performance Skills Level Self-Assessment" (pp.27-29) before reading the book, and again after you've read it to reevaluate your initial thoughts. Then take it every 90 days until you can confidently rate yourself 4 or 5 in all categories.

Jim Pawlak is a nationally syndicated book reviewer.

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