Feeling stressed? Think and behave like an Olympic athlete

Team Canada Standing Proud in Sochi
Team Canada Standing Proud in Sochi - Photo Olympic.ca
Team Canada Standing Proud in Sochi
Team Canada Standing Proud in Sochi – Photo Olympic.ca

A few tips on how to perform better under pressure – and how to answer (or ignore) the questions after

Faith WoodsBy Faith Wood
EDMONTON – LIVING –  “A gentleman does not lose control of his temper. … Exhibitions of anger, fear, hatred, embarrassment, ardour or hilarity, are all bad form in public,” wrote Emily Post.

The Winter Olympic Games in PyeongChang, South Korea, are about to get underway. Sometimes I’m grateful that this only happens every four years. It’s one of those rare times when my husband and I settle down in front of the television for lengthy periods, watching Olympians put their hearts and souls on the line.

During the games, Canadians will cheer as one. No dissenting voices crying foul over decisions made by our political leaders. Instead, our eyes will be glued on the efforts of competition. We’ll feel the highs and lows – the emotional turmoil that faces each competitor.

There will be those who have trained tirelessly and fall short of their dreams for a podium position. Others may suffer injuries or illnesses that pull them out of the running.

But as much as physical preparation and good fortune matters, emotional control will be critical. And not just during the competition. After, in front of the cameras, it will also be important.

Controlling your emotions under tremendous pressure can be difficult at the best of times. It’s even more difficult when your hopes are dashed and an overzealous media person sticks a microphone in your face and asks questions that sound like: “So, how does it feel to be a loser?”

The pressure to perform, and then to explain why you didn’t maintain your personal best, is incredible. Yet most of these elite athletes will manage to act and speak with grace and dignity – instead of yanking the microphone out of the interviewer’s hand and throwing it into the crowd. (This is better behaviour than what happens at political debates.)

How can we all learn to maintain our dignity when we face tough situations or questions?

Never underestimate the power of holding your tongue. You can always use silence to your advantage. When you’ve been asked something stupid, standing quietly and staring at questioner puts the pressure right back on them to justify their word choices. It’s important not to take responsibility for someone else’s lack of grace.

To be a good sportsman, Post said, “One must be stoic and never show rancour in defeat, or triumph in victory, or irritation, no matter what annoyance is encountered. One who can not help sulking, or explaining, or protesting when the loser, or exulting when the winner, has no right to take part in games and contests.”

Here are a few tips for performing better under pressure:

  • If you know you have a tough interview or meeting coming up, take time to visualize a positive outcome. Meditate, stroll, practise yoga or tai chi. These activities allow you to generate a fresh outlook and help you remain calm when embarking on that challenge ahead.
  • Eliminate destructive self-talk. Avoid the ‘should have said’ and ‘should not have said’ dialogues. Focus your internal conversations on what you can say rather than what you won’t say.

Remember, while you may not have control over others, you do control your emotional responses to them. Step back, breathe deeply, relax and refocus. Pat yourself on the back when you show good form in the face of adversity.

  • Smiling creates endorphins and dopamine – even when you fake it. So practise sincere smiling and plan for a positive encounter.
  • Laugh as often as possible.
  • Don’t overestimate or underestimate your own importance. We may all be unique, but there are plenty of people who are a lot like us, so lighten up. Use perspective and enjoy what you do.

If you start feeling stressed or experience a real pressure-cooker situation, think like an Olympian – and show a bit of grace while you’re doing it.

Columnist Faith Wood is a novelist and professional speaker who focuses on helping groups and individuals navigate conflict, shift perceptions and improve communications.

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