The Problem with Pressure, part one (#846)

Have you ever had the experience of being about to walk away from a project, and just at the point where you give up on it, suddenly something happened that made the whole thing fall into place?

More often than not, what happens in those moments is that you’ve taken the pressure off of yourself. And suddenly when the pressure is off, everything starts to move. This is 180 degrees counter to the way that most of us have learned to think about pressure. We’ve been taught to think that we need a certain amount of pressure in order to succeed.

I’ve even been to offices where they had posters with a picture of a lump of coal being crushed into a diamond as motivation. Or the one that points out that it’s the extra degree from 211 to 212 that pushes water into steam. Both of which are true in the physical world.

But do you really want to treat yourself like a lump of coal? Do you really want to run your business by turning up the heat on yourself higher and higher and higher until you either burn up or disappear into thin air?

In my experience of working with companies and ‘solopreneurs’, what actually tends to happen is that long before the coal turns into a diamond, people give up. And long before the water turns to steam, they decide that it’s just too hot and sweaty and they don’t want to play anymore.

So why would we put pressure on ourselves to succeed when the effects of pressure are often what leads to failure?

Two reasons:

1. We think pressure and stress are rational and inevitable responses to our environment.

2. We think pressure and stress are purposeful and useful ways to move ourselves forward in our lives.

Let’s take a look at each one of these ideas in a little more detail…

An experiment I’ve often done in live talks and trainings is to ask the audience to consider each of the following scenarios:

– You have an hour to get somewhere that’s 30 minutes away – do you feel pressure?

– You have 30 minutes to get somewhere that’s 30 minutes away – do you feel pressure?

– You have 15 minutes to get somewhere that’s 30 minutes away – do you feel pressure?

Only about 15% of people would feel pressure in the first scenario; about 50% feel it in the second scenario; and about 50% say they would feel it in scenario three.

Most people are surprised by those figures. After all, our instinctive prediction is that the amount of pressure people experience should go up the more time sensitive a task becomes, which suggests the stats should be more like 0% for the first situation, 50% for the second, and 100% for the third.

When asked, people who say they’d feel pressure in the first and second situation generally explain it as being to do with concerns about traffic, flat tires, and other unexpected or unpredictable delays. People who don’t feel pressure in those same circumstances generally can’t understand why somebody would feel pressure when there’s enough or more than enough time for the task at hand.

In the third scenario, people who would feel pressure think it’s obvious why you would feel pressure when there isn’t enough time for the task at hand, while those that don’t explain it as recognizing the futility of struggling to do something that can’t be done. They actually find the impossibility of the task at hand ‘takes the pressure off’.

Are some of these people rational and the others irrational? If pressure is a function of our circumstances, shouldn’t we all feel roughly the same amount of pressure in the same circumstances?

The reason we don’t is because like all of our experience, pressure is 100% created from the inside-out. It’s not created by your deadline.  It’s not created by your boss. It’s not a ‘virus’ you catch from your environment. It is entirely a product of Thought.

If we think our well-being is on the line in some way, we will feel pressure. If we don’t think those thoughts, we won’t feel that pressure. And because well-being is innate, it can never be ‘on the line’.

Well-being is our nature. That doesn’t mean we always feel good – any one of us can get caught up in thought at any time, and in so doing we become instantly subject to every emotional color in the spectrum. But to say that means that well-being comes and goes would be like saying that because there are clouds, the sun is not always present. Even in the darkest hour, the sun is still there, right where it’s always been – it’s just that in some moments, there is something between us and our clear seeing.

You are offered a job working at a casino. In order to encourage other people to play, they will pay you $500 a night to gamble with the house’s money You will be given $50,000 in chips at the start of the evening; you will turn in whatever amount of chips you have left at the end of the night and leave with your $500 in your pocket.

What would that actually be like? Chances are if you were able to quadruple your money you would be excited in the moment, but at the end of the night after turning in your chips you would forget all about it. Similarly, if you lost it all, you would likely be disappointed – until you remembered that it was all just a game and the real payoff was already in your pocket.

What would it be like to play the game of life knowing that everything that really counts – your well-being, happiness, love, and self-worth – are already yours to keep? After all, you were born with them, and the only thing that can ever take you away from them is a thought. There is nothing of true and lasting value you can get from playing the game of life that wasn’t already yours before you started playing and won’t continue to be yours after the game is done.

You are playing with the house’s money. There is nothing real at stake. The pressure is completely off…

Next week, we’ll explore the apparent purpose of pressure, and alternate ways of getting the same benefits without the numerous downsides. In the meantime, have fun, learn heaps, and may all your success be fun!

With all my love,

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