How to Handle Pressure Like a Pro
Hello, everybody, and welcome back to If I'm Honest. I'm pretty sure that each of us has felt some type of pressure at some point in our lives, maybe it's applying to college or finding a job. Maybe it's sitting pole position before the last race of the season when you have the championship on the line, who knows. But regardless of the severity, we all experience pressure. And if I'm honest, I feel pressure and nerves before every race, you know, if I don't feel nervous, if I don't have those moments of fear, and nausea, then I know that I'm not there mentally just yet. And as I mentioned, like I get, I get these really intense knots in my stomach sometimes, and I can feel my heart rate getting higher, and it's something that I have had to learn how to deal with. And I do also feel some pressure before giving keynotes, you know, I really want the audience to find it beneficial, I want them to have a good time, I want the client overall to be happy. But those are more like butterflies, I would want to say, you know, they're they're a little nervous, still have to manage it. But it's not the same level of nausea that some races bring me. And I say all this to kind of give a hard launch into the theme for this episode, which is staying focused under pressure. And feeling like we're under pressure can sometimes feel annoying. I don't know if anyone else has felt this sensation, but there are times where I have felt pressure or nervous, and I almost feel a little guilty about it. Or I feel a little inadequate about the fact that I'm feeling pressure. And I don't know why that is I'll be honest, maybe something I need to think about. But but if you feel that sense of like nagging or annoyance with the pressure, just remember that we feel pressure because we care about what we're doing. And caring is a good thing. And I care so deeply about racing. And in 2015 I started racing in NASCAR stock cars, so I had gone from Legends cars, which are like, they look like 1930s models cars at like half scale, and on ovals and road courses, you're see you sit in the middle of the car. I went from that to racing the limited late models. This was with Lee Pulliam at motor mile Speedway, and I won the first two races of the season. It was incredible. I was always finishing up front. And going into the last race of the season, I was leading only by a few points, but I could taste the victory, I could taste the championship. And I wanted it so so badly. And I was nervous. And I felt the pressure not only for me to perform, and because I wanted to win, but because my parents had been so invested in my career. And it was my first full season out of college. And so I felt like I was setting myself up for future success. So there was just a lot of pressure from a lot of different angles imposed by myself imposed by others. And I felt it. And so because of that I want to share two journal entries with you from 2015, which is when I won my limited late model Championship. The first journal entry is from August 24 2015, quote, my heart rate goes up every time I think about the last race of the season. End quote, that's the entry. So I had a long wait between that the second the last race and the last race of the season. So now I'm going to read you my journal entry from September 6 2015, which was just a few days before the last race, all caps, I need to win this championship exclamation point. I have visualized starting sixth preparing for a crash in front of me avoiding it preparing to just go, visualizing passes, side by side racing, dealing with brakes getting squishy on the restarts everything. On the one hand, I get super nervous with knots in my stomach just thinking about it. There's so much I can do with the championship. It is such a great credential. And I'm only leading by two points, anything can happen. And of course, I think about what can go wrong. On the other hand, I just have to finish ahead of the 13, who I've always been in front of and who hasn't crossed the line better than fifth. And I can finish as many as six places behind the 18. So theoretically, if I stay clean and smart, like the last few races from top three, and I don't take risks, I should get it. But again, there's so much out of my control, I have to start sixth and people can crash in front of me. Although I will go easy into turn one so I shouldn't hit hard. I have to be very conscious that the championship is my goal, which means staying clean and finishing ahead of the 13th It's not about winning this race. I've got this. I kid you not I have goosebumps reading that journal entry takes me right back to the room that I was writing it in. It was hot. You know, North Carolina in early September. I was single handedly focused on this championship. I was preparing I was watching videos I was thinking about all the scenarios to prepare for. I'm really proud of myself. It was a very mature approach to dealing with the pressure and for me, I needed to rationalize things I needed to consider all these options and do all that And when we're feeling pressure like that, or whatever you might be feeling pressure about, or if we're feeling stress, you know, our body releases hormones like adrenaline and cortisol, which is a stress reaction, it's a way to help our bodies and our minds work while we are stressed. Because stress can be, you know, something really dangerous, it can be something that's high pressure. And I think that stress can be both good and bad, you know, small amounts or short amounts of stress can actually help us stay alert and stay focused and stay motivated. You know, again, going back to this idea that being being under pressure, and being stressed means that we care. But a lot of stress or feeling stressed all the time, chronic stress can can be bad, and you know, it increases our heart rate and our blood pressure, it can suppress our immune system, it cannot upset our stomachs. There are a lot of different things that that stress can do to the body which are negative. But because pressure is a part of life, I want to share some of the specific tips that I've developed and fine tuned for myself and worked with over the last decade or two that I use to optimize my performance under pressure. The first tip that I have for managing being under pressure is a mantra that my mom said to me when I was 16 and had just started racing on ovals and Ford Focus midgets with Bob East, we were in Indiana, I was struggling to put the lap together. And she said just hit your marks. Just focus on the right entry point, the right Apex the right exit hitting the gas when you need to hitting the brakes when you need to hit your marks. And I like to think of that as really, really focusing in on the present and not future tripping because sometimes that can distract us and cause us to miss step. I learned this very early on in my first year of racing go karts at Oakland Valley race Park, which is where Marco Andretti also raced go karts before me, I was a few races into my first season. And I know I finished seventh my first race, I don't remember where I finished my next few races. But in my fourth or fifth race, I was leading the race I had qualified first I was leading the race. And I had a pretty sizable lead with just a few laps to go. And I was really good at hitting those perfect marks. And I was doing all this, this was obviously before I had that mantra, but a few laps from the end, I think we had maybe like four or five laps till the end. And I started thinking about winning, I started thinking about how happy I would be how celebratory I would be, you know, I started thinking about how proud my parents would be and all this stuff. And the next thing I knew I was spinning out in the second to last corner, a few laps from the end and I was in the grass and I had to get back on track. And I ended up at the back of the pack. It was so embarrassing. I was distraught, I was so disappointed in myself. And you know, I couldn't tell you what happened. I was clearly like in my own world preemptively celebrating my dominant performance. And I lost it, I lost that focus. And I just didn't make it. And trust me, when you have something like that happen, you will never let that happen again. So focus on the present, don't future trip and focus on hitting your marks because hitting your marks will also take a big, maybe overwhelming task and break it down into more bite sized pieces. The second thing that I do to manage pressure when I'm feeling it is to visualize. There are a number of studies that have looked at visualization and the effect that it has on high performance athletes. There's a study from Kearns and Crossman from 1992, where they looked at a handful of Canadian basketball players in practice and games over a 14 week period. And they found that those players who had cognitive intervention, quote unquote, which included visualization, improve their free throw shots in both practice and, and in the games. To me, this makes a lot of sense, because in anything that's hand eye coordination, or anything where you have to physically have these, these performances, if you're able to visualize and be precise in your points, you know, that it makes sense that that would help in your real time performance. And a quick tangent here, but I was taught early on I think back in my Skip Barber days to visualize and to use that as a form of practice and preparation. And I've spoken with certain racers who can visualize their lap on track, particularly on road courses, but they can visualize a lap on a road course track to within tenths of a second of what their physical actual time is when they're driving, which I think is so impressive. But back to how visualization can help with you know, staying composed under pressure. It kind of serves as an extra form of practice. And as we know, practice makes perfect the more and the harder we prepare, the easier the real time situation is. That's a big thing with Racing So, you know, practice is very different from the racing itself. And getting on track is expensive. Having a team out there is expensive, we can't just pick up a racquet and practice tennis or pick up a basketball and make shots or put on our running shoes and go running no, to go practice, you need to have the whole team, you need to have a set of tires, you need to be able to rent the track. And even if you do go practice, as I mentioned, it's very different from racing. In racing, we are actively trying to pass other cars and get to the front of the pack and pace ourselves and conserve our equipment and all of that. So in practice, for the most part, people aren't going to want to risk crashing their car or crashing and other people. And so our practices are really more about optimizing the car, seeing how fast we can get maybe doing a long run practice. But it's a very different approach than we approach during our race. So it that's an interesting little tidbit about practice in racing versus other sports. And so the power of visualization is huge. And I learned this early on and knew that it was important. And I get most nervous when it comes to qualifying. And qualifying is where you go as fast as you can for a lap or two or a set period of time to set the starting order for a race. I am just not the world's best qualifier. I know qualifying doesn't matter and it's a race and that's great, but I'm a much better long distance racer, than I am a qualifier where you have to absolutely maximize everything out of the car and driver for one lap. I've just never ever, ever been good at it. So because I know I'm not great at it despite you know, even when I win championships, I don't set pole a lot in those seasons. So I get particularly nervous because I know that I'm not going to do as well, I hope most likely and I still want to do as well as I can. So what I've done for many, many years is I will visualize making that perfect lap, how I pull out of the out of the pits and onto the track and how I get on the gas and what all the visuals are like, you know, I will just practice that perfect lap over and over and over again in my head. And hey, I probably did better in a lot of qualifying than I would have otherwise. But an important thing to remember with visualizing, because it is so powerful. We want to visualize the positives. There's a saying in racing look where you want to go. And you know, your your hands will follow your eyes. So if you don't want to crash, you don't look at the wall because you're more likely to go there. And it's the same thing with visualization. You know, if you want to practice what's going to happen, focus on the good stuff. Don't focus on what can go wrong, don't visualize what can go wrong. Instead, focus on the things you want to have happen, how you're going to control your your body, your mind, your eyes, all of that, whatever it might be, you know, I've given examples with racing, but it could be visualizing, you know how you go through a presentation, it could be visualizing how you go through an interview, familiarizing yourself with the situation so that there are fewer unknowns, when you get to the real thing that can be really, really helpful in managing pressure. The last technique that I want to share with you for for managing pressure is to find a physically calming type of exercise or mechanism that can help you bring your body back to a more neutral state. You know, as I mentioned, being nervous elevates our heart rate, it distances our bodies from our optimal mode for maximize performance if we're too nervous or feeling too much pressure. And there are a lot of different things that we can do to minimize the negative effects of pressure. So you're going to have to do some experimentation. But I'm going to share the two things that I do. So the first thing that I do before a race or you know, if I'm at home with a high stress phone call coming up, whatever it might be, is I will try to sprint. So let me tell you, when I was 14 racing in Skip Barber, I was getting ready to go out for one of my races. And you know, I was nervous. I was starting up front. I knew I knew I could do well. But I was still nervous. I was pretty young. And I realized that I had to go to the bathroom. So it was a bit of a pickle because we were being called to our cars and I knew I didn't want to have to feel like I had to pee while I was in the car. That's the whole mess. And so I sprinted to the bathroom. And I sprinted back. And although I was a little winded when I got back, I realized I felt a lot calmer. And I thought hmm, you know, Endorphins make you happy. Maybe they also make you a little calm. And so I tested it the next race. You know, when I was feeling nervous, I did a little sprint to the bathroom right before I got to my car. And I also felt better. So maybe it's a little bit of a compulsion now but before every time I strap in for a race, I will sprint somewhere. It's not always to the bathroom at this point. I've timed that a little better as I've gotten older, but I'll sprint to the car. I'll sprint down the road quickly and just something to get that heart rate up. It really helps to make me have an excited energy, not a negative energy. You can also do push ups or something just to get the heart rate up kind of quickly. And the second thing that I do is deep breathing. Breathing is so Powerful and there are a lot of podcasts about it. And there are different types of breathing, you know, there's square method of breathing, there's deep breathing, the square method of breathing is also called Box breathing. And it's actually a technique that the military uses and teaches, I personally haven't found it to have as much of a calming effect, I find deep diaphragm breathing to be the most helpful. And it's a really slow inhale into the diaphragm, through your nose, and then out through your mouth. And this is something that I use a lot before I go on stage, there was there was one talk. And it was actually right after I met Ben, I flew to Mississippi to give a talk. And I had been styled in an outfit that had a high waisted tight belt. And I tried to do my deep breathing while I was sitting in the audience beforehand, and I realized I couldn't so good lesson to not wear a tight belt when I'm on stage. And anyway, I do this deep breathing, because it just really helps calm me down, it helps clear my head to be able to kind of focus, I'm hitting my marks of the inhale and the exhale, it's focusing in on that specific activity, and it's having a positive effect on my body. So I really encourage you to explore these different physical things that you can do to help calm you down. Maybe it'll be listening to a certain type of music, maybe it'll be having a mantra, maybe it'll be journaling, maybe it'll be meditating, maybe it'll be having a pep talk with yourself, you know, there's so many different things. And I just encourage you to experiment, try different things, see how they work, do some research and having those go to things that we can do is really comforting. Also, you know, if things are chaotic, if things are stressful, knowing that you have these, these methods that help help you stay calm, will help us be in the best mindset possible. And I was just thinking that as much as the stress of being under pressure can be a lot to handle, it feels so good. Once it's over in the release is there, kind of almost regardless of how you do obviously, if it goes super well, then that's awesome. And you're on this high, which we love being on a high in a natural, organic way. And even if not like you know you got through it, there's this release of that pressure. And it's just satisfying either way. So for a quick summary, pressure is part of life, we all have to deal with it. And I think there are three big things that we can do to help manage our stress. The first is to hit your marks and to focus on the present, don't future trip. The second is to visualize what you want to do and visualizing is so powerful, so really be intentional with it and find that that calming mechanism that helps you maintain a more neutral body states so that you can do the best possible. And that's our show. Thanks so much for tuning in. If you liked this episode, please share it leave a review, rate it subscribe and follow and thank you for letting me be honest with you. I'll see you next week.