Let me give you a hypothetical high-pressure situation.
You’re the pilot of a small, single engine airplane. You take off, alone, in this single engine airplane, and head out over a large body of open water. At about 800 feet above this water, your single engine starts to sound funny (and not in a “ha-ha” way), and you notice you’re not gaining altitude at the rate you should be. At around 1200 feet above the water, your single engine quits.
This is a high-pressure situation. What do you do?
Fortunately for you, it’s a hypothetical high-pressure situation. Unfortunately for me, it wasn’t hypothetical when it happened to me several years ago.
I don’t want to keep you in suspense, so I’ll just say that I survived. As did the airplane. As the plane was falling back to earth, I was able to make a quick U-turn and, with only inches to spare, manage to land on the runway from which I had just departed.
So why did this high-pressure situation have a happy ending? Well, it came down to two elements – the same two elements that will help you survive your high-pressure situations as well.
Preparation… and focus.
I had been in situations that were similar to this before. During flight training, my instructor put me through dozens (if not hundreds) of simulated engine-out drills. Granted, these were at a much higher altitude (which means more time to recover), and they were only simulated, but I still knew the procedures. Also, I had (coincidentally) recently begun glider training, and had already soloed, so I was familiar with flying with no engine. Again, not identical, but I still had a bit of an “I’ve been here before” feeling. And finally, because of some special training I had done with an instructor just the week before, I knew what angle of bank would give me the most turn for the least altitude loss.
In other words, I had prepared for a situation like this. When the trouble began, the preparation kicked in. I knew what to do because, again, “I’d been here before.” Your takeaway: One – when you’re in a high-pressure situation, think back to a time when you’ve successfully gotten through a similar situation in the past. It doesn’t have to be identical, just similar. Remind yourself, “I’ve been here before.” And two – anticipate the high-pressure situations you’re likely to face, and train for them. Practice them when the pressure’s off, and you’ll be better equipped to tackle them when the pressure’s on.
Primarily because of my training, when the pressure hit I went into sharp focus. Analyze the problem, solve the problem. Nothing extraneous. No thoughts of, “Boy, if I wreck the airplane – and am somehow able to walk (or swim) away – what are people going to think of me? It’ll be so embarrassing. And expensive. And if I’m delayed (or worse), who’s gonna feed the dog?” This is all just noise, and in a high-pressure situation, you need to shut out the noise. Your takeaway: When you’re in a high-pressure situation and you hear the “noise” starting to enter your brain, ask yourself, “What’s the most important thing for me to focus on right now?”
You may never have to pilot a plane to an emergency landing, but you will face other high-pressure situations in your life – both personally and professionally. In these situations, your two best friends will be the same two that saved my bacon: preparation and focus.