There are no high-pressure situations. There are situations and, at the same time, there are temporary perceptions and feelings about them. However, there is no causal connection between these two variables, despite how it can seem to all of us at times. Even a World Cup Final is only as big as you believe it to be.
It can be easy to assume that the higher the level of the competition, the more pressure that exists. However, a more complex game against skilful performers does not equate to pressure, unless you believe that it does. People can feel pressure at every level. People can play with freedom at every level.
All the variables at every level - opponents, money, adulation, criticism - are inherently neutral. They are what they are. The extent to which they seem like a blessing or a curse is always a temporary, thought-created perception.
When it feels like a situation is ‘high pressure’, this is an ‘outside-in’ illusion. An ‘outside-in’ illusion is something that looks like it determines how you feel. This is despite situations and circumstances being unable to create feelings and emotions. All feelings are transient energy that arise and disappear within your mind. How seriously you take them, and how much time and attention you give them, determines the strength and longevity that the feeling has.
When you know that ‘outside-in illusions’ exist, you begin to intuitively spot them as they appear in your mind. You realise that matches, opponents and levels do not determine pressure, only your thinking and beliefs about them do. When you know that, you stop energising these perceptions with further analysis or a resistance to the feeling.
This causes the habit of perceiving matches to be ‘high pressure’ to fall away. The feeling of pressure stops arising or, even if it does appear, you see the illusion for what it is. When you see an illusion, you are instinctively able to go beyond it. To play freely no matter how you are feeling. You are still the same player, with the same skills, even when an uncomfortable feeling appears. Your capacity to adapt and perform in the situation is not impaired even if you do feel under pressure.
While there are no high-pressure situations, there will always be challenging circumstances – given your skills, the environment you are in and the opponent you are facing. In a tough situation, simply deal with what is right in front of you in that moment. Leave everything else. You can only do what you can do, right now. One action at a time. Play one ball at a time. Repeat that process again and again, and so on. At the end of that simple process, you might look back and find a ‘big’ performance. Focus on what is required now and the result will take care of itself.
This is an excerpt from my second book, Perform Beyond Pressure, which is available on Amazon here