When the Pressure's On

The Secret to Winning When You Can't Afford to Lose

 When the Pressure's On

Author: Louis S. Csoka, Ph.D.
Pub Date: May 2016
Print Edition: $24.95
Print ISBN: 9780814436103
Page Count: 224
Format: Hardback
e-Book ISBN: 9780814436110

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Regardless of their career stats, NFL kickers are only as good as their last kicks. One mistake, one missed field goal, and their careers could be over. In order to have any chance of sustained success , they must be able to line up for every kick, without letting the fear of missing, or getting cut, distract them from the task at hand. That’s why when Billy Cundiff was released by the Atlanta Falcons in 2007, he knew he needed help.

Billy started his career on a high note, getting signed by the Dallas Cowboys as an undrafted free agent in 2002, but after missing two field goals in a critical game in 2005, he was released, Then he was signed and released by teams at a surprising pace, playing in four different cities in two years. After being released again in 2007, he asked his coach for advice moving forward during his exit interview. The coach told him to work on the mental side of things and referred him to my company, Apex Performance. “It turns out my thought patterns were bringing me down,” Billy said. “I had to get to a place where I was confident, without being arrogant.”

I worked with Billy on setting goals, stress management, and mental preparation.“I realized that I was capable of much more than what I had been doing,” Billy said. To achieve peak performance, he needed to center around his own thoughts and mental preparedness, and he learned that it didn’t matter what 80,000 other people thought, whether they where cheering him for to miss or jeering him because he had. He became mentally strong, able to bear the weight of kicks that could be the difference between victory and defeat, and it changed the trajectory of his career.

In 2010, while playing for the Baltimore Ravens, Billy was selected for the Pro Bowl. “For me, going from having to compete for my job to start the season, to being voted by my peers as being the top kicker in the AFC, was pretty nice.”

What I taught Billy comes from both personal and professional experience. As a cadet at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point and later as a soldier in Vietnam, I learned the importance of mental preparation. Years later, as a professor at West Point, where I conducted research on performance enhancement, I approached our football coach about teaching his players the mental skills he talked about with them: visualization, confidence, poise, and focus. He allowed me to work with several players on the team using sport psychology and the newest science in biofeedback, making my research an evidence-based program. West Point went on to have one of the most successful seasons in years, and from there the program was expanded to all cadets.

Years later as head of human resources at New Holland, a $6 billion agriculture and construction equipment manufacturing company, I adapted this program for the business world. In my day-to-day dealings with the company’s management team, I gained insight into the pressures and demands placed on these executives. Their stress levels were off the charts, and the company, like so many others, provided no resources to help these managers cope, let alone thrive, in such an environment that kept them under fire at all times. Under these conditions I witnessed far too many people making bad decisions, exhibiting poor problem-solving skills, and experiencing interpersonal confrontations, all of which were a threat not only to the success of the company, but to the overall health and wellness of the company’s executives.

That’s when I realized the skills I had taught athletes and soldiers could be beneficial for business people as well. I expanded my research and found that the concepts I had developed on peak performance and mental training applied no matter what challenge you faced because, even if you aren’t under actual fire, even if you aren’t lining up a kick to win the Super Bowl, it can feel that way. After leaving New Holland, I was the Executive Coach for Fred Rockwood who was the CEO of Hillenbrand, Inc at the time. He understood the issues his executives faced and how powerful this type of integrated training could be. In 2002 we implemented the first ever Peak Performance Center in a Fortune 500 company. This, for the first time, put into practice a peak performance center embedded within a business organization where executives could develop and strengthen the mental skills needed to excel under the demands the business world brings. A climate that is often pressure filled and a sometimes uncertain environment. Here, for instance, are five situations you likely recognize:

You're being pressured to deliver

To meet shareholder expectations, there is a huge emphasis on cost-cutting in today’s post-recession world, as well as downsizing, and delivering results on a smaller budget. Fewer people must do more and more and more. No matter how hard you try, at some point there just is not enough time in the day or the resources to get it done. Over time, this can lead to work overload and feelings of your being overwhelmed.

You're skill requirements and job assignments are rapidly changing

When companies are downsizing, the surviving workers are typically asked to engage in some tasks with which they are unfamiliar and for which they have not been trained or prepared. Thrust into such situations, your learning curve is steep and your chance of failure high. Over time, this can cause you to lose confidence.

You have to work on a team

Companies have come to widely adopt the use of teams as a means for increasing efficiency and productivity. However, you might be more comfortable and highly productive working on your own, but not so when placed on a team. You find yourself uneasy with being accountable and responsible for your teammates, and the stress can be counterproductive.

Technology is transforming your work

Technology has transformed the ways in which we live, work and play. With the good, however, comes the bad and the ugly – the emails, voicemails, smartphones, laptops, texts, etc. In other words, what was supposed to be anywhere, anytime has become everywhere, all-the-time. Given a finite amount of time in the day, you might allow the demands from work to creep into your family time, and if your family life is important to you, you push that demand further into your personal time. Eventually you realize that you’ve spent all the time for doing the things that make you happy - sports, gardening, exercising, or reading. At best, this can lead to guilt when you do choose family and personal time over work. At worst, you can lose a sense of your own individuality.

You're dealing with discontinuous change

Continuous change is a natural part of life, one as linear as time, somewhat easy to predict and accommodate by growing and developing. Discontinuous change, on the other hand, is sudden, unexpected and unanticipated, and catches us by surprise: the sale of your company to one whose interests might not align with yours, a reorganization and a redistribution of responsibilities, a boss resigning, an opportunity for advancement that went to someone else, getting laid off, all for reasons beyond your control, but with very personal and professional effects. Discontinuous change can create an extended period of loss of direction and purpose, a blurred vision of tomorrow.

The cumulative effect of all of the above is a lot of pressure and stress. To be able to survive under these conditions, you have only three courses of action:

1. You can opt out of the situation by quitting. You may have friends who have done this, and maybe they found relief in a different career track altogether, but for most of us, given our debt, lifestyles and family responsibilities, this is not a realistic option.

2. You can attempt to eliminate the causes of the stress, but for the most part these are beyond your control and impossible to avoid.

3. You can improve the way you respond to the stress: physiologically, mentally and emotionally. These responses will determine your level of performance, and eventually, your success both at and away from work while preparing you to counter any future stresses. This is your best course of action.

You might think the best way to respond is by focusing on day-to-day processes, which is what most of today’s business books and business consultants advocate. That could mean focusing on something specific, like your design process, your marketing tactics, or your accounting system. But ask yourself: how has getting the processes right ever made an impact on your business? Of course, an organization has to have the proper processes in place to function efficiently. But efficiency and effectiveness are very different from performance. What happens at a critical moment can greatly impact your business, and the reaction to the situation is determined by a human, not by a process.

Let’s say that you have to make a key sales presentation to a big client and you are up against five competitors. If you get that business, your life is going to change. But getting that business entails much more than mastering a few processes, such as getting the presentation assembled, printed and delivered. It means understanding your client’s needs. Knowing exactly what you want out of the meeting. Seeing what could go wrong. Having faith in your presentation. And maintaining your cool when your product or ideas are questioned.

Easier said than done, how do you do all of these things? First you will learn how recent findings in brain science have unveiled a wealth of information about how the brain works and how we can use that information to succeed. Second, I detail The Five Point Plan. This is where you will learn in-depth about our performance plan and the five areas that you need to work on in order to grow your mental strength. Finally, I'll apply the Five-Point Plan to extraordinary performance situations to demonstrate its real-world applications. In the end you will:

• Gain confidence and self-assuredness that stems from a positive, deliberate, and adaptive thought process

• Gain greater control and self-regulation in the moment when under extreme conditions

• Develop a razor-sharp focus and concentration amidst distractions

• Realize how you can envision success and then make it happen

• Understand how to lay out a clear purpose and goals, and setting attainable benchmarks for getting there

• Build an increased capacity for situational awareness, mental agility, learned instinct, and commander’s calm.

Throughout the book, you’ll find stories of people who have used this plan and how it’s changed their lives for the better. These stories serve to illustrate how the performance plan works, but also gives you something to strive for in your own practice. Most importantly, what you learn in this book not only helps you be more successful in your career, but in the rest of your life as well. You will be mentally healthier, stronger, and able to deal with the ups and downs of life.

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