We all have to deal with pressure at work and at home. Whether it’s meeting a goal for the day or sticking to a deadline, pressure is a constant part of our lives.

One of the things that many people notice about working under pressure, especially those who don’t handle stress well, is the more important a deadline is, the more pressure it puts on you to get it done.

The Pressure Paradox

The most experienced, able people are more likely to fail under pressure, even when their performance is otherwise top-notch. This is called the pressure paradox, and it is a fact of life that plagues everyone who has to perform under pressure.

The pressure paradox is mostly a mental problem, and it comes from overthinking when you’re close to a goal or deadline.

The pressure paradox is driven, fundamentally, by stress. The more important a goal is, the more you really want to do a good job with it. Rather than relaxing and letting yourself perform as you’re able to the rest of the time, you’re overcome with thoughts of doubt and feelings of worry.

As your sense of scrutiny and attention to detail is turned up to the max, you become a destructive force rather than a creative one, tearing yourself down and wallowing in self-criticism rather than performing as you otherwise could.

How to Beat It

There are a few keys to beating the pressure paradox. The first key is to allow yourself to relax even in the face of an important deadline or huge goal. Take a few deep breaths and clear your mind when you become overly distracted with self-criticism. Tell yourself that you’re doing fine, and ignore the destructive voice in your head that’s causing you to worry. These forces of anxiety and self-criticism are depleting your overall mental resources, and actually making you less likely to succeed.

Another thing to try when the heat is on is to distract yourself. Take 5 minutes and play a little mental game. Count backwards from 100, or sing a song. Anything you can do to take yourself out of the mental loop of self-criticism and doubt is a good thing, even if it’s as menial as counting paperclips. It’s not the activity that matters, it’s getting into the proper mindset.

Practice, Practice, Practice

When it comes to beating the pressure paradox the most important thing that you can do is practice. The more often that you work under pressure, the better you’ll perform. Your body and mind get used to working with tight deadlines or intimidating goals, and you’ll find yourself performing better each time. So keep your chin up, don’t let distracting thoughts take over, and in no time you’ll be performing like a champ even under pressure.