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By Kristin Hiemstra A shameless believer of human potential, Kristin is as dynamic and energetic about career issues as a nice person can be. She combines real world knowledge from her many years of hiring experience in Washington, DC with a decade of college admissions experience.

How to Have Grace Under Pressure

By Kristin Hiemstra Posted May 7, 2012 at 2:52 pm

Oh, to be the person who confidently withstands the onslaught of life! You know the ones, the world is crashing around them and they appear effortless as they manage multiple fires. From what I have observed, it is these folks who make it to the top of the heap because everyone else has crashed burned along the way. Fortitude is definitely a virtue worth pursuing. This time of year is interesting in the schools because it is when the students who have so carefully stitched themselves together for most of the year fall apart.  The tension of the upcoming exam season combines with the undone list of assignments and the result is a pressure cooker ‘developing adults’ find overwhelming. Sometimes the student blows, sometimes they collapse, and sometimes they keep it together and excel. This is also a time when job seekers get extremely uncomfortable. For those who are unemployed, the entrance into spring is yet another season of searching for work and for those unhappy in their current positions, the itch to leave becomes so intense it consumes every waking moment.  Sometimes it is neither education nor employment but some other aspect of a person’s life that increasingly demands attention as it chafes at the very core of the soul like gritty sand paper.

In life it is healthy to have some pressure as we strive to become better people and live to our highest potential. However it becomes problematic when the pressure created exceeds our capacity for managing it. It is my observation that those who can handle the greatest amount of pressure and perform well have incredibly high degrees of personal resiliency. They face continual setbacks but, like the Energizer bunny, they keep going through it all.

Here are a few ways for managing the pressure cooker of your life and maintaining your grace under pressure:

1. Give yourself permission to make mistakes AND to leave them behind. AND is in capital letters because the second part of this clause is the most important and frequently the most forgotten. We all screw up; it is how we learn. Give yourself and others permission ‘to learn’ and then move on. There is no law that you have to replay mistakes over and over and over again inside your head. If you do this and are saying things to yourself you would never say to another person, then you need to stop.  Self-flagellation is THE biggest thief of personal potential. It robs you of your future potential because you are looking at the past. For what it is worth, it is not necessary to remind others of the their mistakes either no matter how much you want to.

2. Pick a great personal mantra. Businesses have vision statements, campaigns have slogans, and to get through tough times, you need a terrific mantra. A mantra is a chant you say over and over again until it is so ingrained in your mind that it runs as the background music to your life. A great mantra gives your brain direction and focus here are a few to try on: “I am graceful under pressure.” “I convert setbacks into successes.” “I keep it moving.” “I get knocked down and I get up again. Nothing can keep me down.” Make up one that inspires you to make it through the tough times. Sometimes these are best when set to some type of rhythm. Mine is the song “Every thing’s Alright” from Jesus Christ Superstar – not quite sure how it came to be my “go to” song but I can feel my blood pressure go down when I hear it.

3. Play out worse case scenario.  If you don’t get a passing grade, if you don’t get hired, if the job doesn’t change, if you file for bankruptcy and lose the house, if your marriage collapses, what is the worse thing that could happen? Fear of the unknown should not induce a state of panic. Briefly visit the worse case scenario, develop Plans B, C and D in case it becomes a reality, and then shut the door to it.

4. Play out best case scenario. If you make a good grade, get the job you want, transform your marriage, write a bestseller or win the lottery what does that look like?  Taste it, feel it, smell it and go for it. This should be played in your head when you wake up, during lunch time, and when you go to bed. A picture of success gives the brain directions on what it should be helping you create.

5. Fake it till you make it. Think of a person who handles pressure and stress well. Now channel that person. For example, I’m an completely enamored with Princess Kate. When I am anxious, which happens when I meet new people, I pretend I’m her and start smiling  because to me she always looks genuinely friendly and that is how I want to look. The mental image I have of her allows me to more readily access the extra friendly part of myself. Perhaps for you it is Oprah Winfrey, Will Smith, Meryl Streep, or George Clooney. Just don’t get carried away and start calling for your personal assistant.

6. Make a schedule. Yes I know time is precious but carve out an hour or two and make a complete list of everything you need to do to relieve the pressure. Include the minutiae. Then prioritize. This will give you a framework to operate within. If the money is available, hire someone to help with the easy things when possible.

7. Replace the news with your favorite music. To some people this is heresy but having worked in news I can assure you that news is derived from drama, and drama is stressful. It is also passing. You cannot control when South Korea is going to launch a satellite/nuclear warhead so why get upset about it? Music is emotion and you can use it to induce emotions you want into your life.

8. Keep on, keeping on. This is one of the hardest things people have to do in life especially when things seem bleak and we feel like we are drowning. I think AA is one to something with the “one day at a time” slogan. Commit to making it through the day, or if that seems overwhelming, 5 minutes.  You would not be the first person to hang on second by second. You be in good company since this is what Abraham Lincoln did things got tough.

Of all the strategies mentioned, perhaps the most important is to hold on to your dream for your life whatever that may be because dreams sustain the soul.

Feel free to email any feedback to Kristin@artofpotential.com.

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