Performing Under Pressure: The Science Of Doing Your Best When It Matters Most, by Hendrie Weisinger and J.P. Pawliw-Fry
[Note: This book was provided free of charge by Blogging For Books/Crown Business Press in exchange for an honest review.]
At its heart, this is a book that seeks to overturn myths about people performing “clutch” under pressure based on availability bias with practical and data-driven analysis on how much the performance of others suffers under pressure. Rather than entertaining illusions about our abilities to handle pressure, which only tend to get worse with time and repeated exposure to traumatic experiences, the authors, both of whom are experts in dealing with stress and performance in the consulting and academic world, seek to encourage readers to change their own expectations and attitudes and behaviors to help make situations less stressful and anxiety-inducing in the first place. This book contains a little bit of theory, and quite a lot of attempts to ground its advice in what purports to be the current scientific consensus, but it is at its core a practical book of a specific type of self-help, one that I am sure anyone who knows me would agree that is practical and needful.
In terms of organization, the book is divided into three parts. The first seeks to place the study of pressure on a firm epistemological and scientific basis, by examining the variables of pressure. For one, there is the aspect of stress, then there is the fact that pressure occurs when a stressful situation is viewed as particularly important for a given person, subject to interpretation. Then there are various life factors, like oversensitivity or history with trauma, that make pressure more difficult to deal with. After this comes a set of 22 pressure solutions that are designed to overcome the in-the-moment stress of high-pressure situations through a variety of means, so that short-term performance can be aided, and the feelings of hyperarousal and distress can be reduced. Third comes several chapters which promote that the reader builds a long-term defense against stress using a COTE of armor, standing for confidence, optimism, tenacity, and enthusiasm, before closing with a couple of appendices that help frame the reader’s pressure profile and a lengthy and appreciative acknowledgement section.
Contrary to my own expectations, I found that looking at the principles of this book, my own pressure profile was mixed, when I figured it would be a lot worse. On the plus side, I have strong tenacity and enthusiasm, and adopt some of the strategies the book recommends (communicating when one feels under pressure, writing one’s concerns, using humor). On the negative side of the ledger, I clearly need help controlling distress and arousal in stressful situations, have a naturally excessive response to pressure, and need more optimism and confidence, as well as more skill in diminishing the feeling of pressure. This book, therefore, was surprisingly flattering of my ability to cope in what I consider an area of weakness, and gives plenty of practical advice to put into use to make my life less distressing. That is not to say that this book is perfect–it relies far too much on bogus evolutionary theorizing for its scientific legitimacy and makes assumptions that its reading audience is right-handed–but it succeeds admirably at putting pressure under the microscope and giving ways that athletes, musicians, businesspeople, and hopeless romantics can make their lives less stressful and more successful.