Published by Matt Church – Founder on 17 September 2021
Change your relationship to the pressure, don’t let pressure change your life.
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The direct nature of turning up in a thought leaders practice means that the buck stops with you (I should really learn where that saying comes from). If a client doesn’t love the workshop you delivered, you can’t really blame anyone else. When you post a thought on social media and someone calls you out for missing a key idea, that’s on you. Well, it feels that way right! The value exchange is direct and the feedback is immediate. Nowhere to hide and no one to blame.
This nowhere and no one but ‘you-here-now’ reality means you, as a thought leader, are only as good as today’s experience. It is direct and immediate and on you. Add to this the focus on building reputational capital as core to driving new business and the stakes go up again. Not only are you required to perform at your best today, but tomorrow’s work depends on it. You need to be great to keep this game going and you are only as good as your last appearance.
That’s a lot, isn’t it?
Here’s the thing, the pressure is real enough psychologically, but that doesn’t mean it should stress you. It’s all made up and not a real thing, it’s all in the mind. It’s our thoughts and feelings that make the pressure a thing. The stories we tell ourselves about the pressure are made up of images, memories, concepts, and emotions but they are not real. They are just things you attach to the story, and yes, sometimes the experience of being a thought leader.
The pressure to perform is a performance pressure that has nothing to do with how you show up each day. It can be what you do but it does not define who you are. You are a high performer, you do a lot. You do what others don’t, can’t, or won’t. But that’s not who you are. Your identity and subsequently your stress response should not be located there. Unable to handle this, many high performers can end up lost in substance abuse and many potential high performers step back complaining that the pressure gives them a stomach ache. They literally claim they don’t have the stomach to perform.
These are the same people who then need a quiet room to meditate. Your life is a meditation, pressure is life. The 18th-century Zen Buddhist teacher Hakuin Ekaku had something to say about this: “Meditation in the midst of activity is a billion times superior to meditation in stillness.” This reflects the dōchū no kufū (“meditation-in-activity”: The Zen practice in the midst of work and action). “Merely enjoying the stillness of zazen never leads to true samadhi power,” Hakuin writes in his Oniazami #1. “Such power is built only by maintaining a clear state of mindfulness amidst the complex activities of daily life. Meditation is life and life is pressure.”
Change your relationship to the pressure, don’t let pressure change your life. Here, Dr. Kelly McConnigal discusses her team research around changing your perception (and internal orientation or story) around stress. Spoiler alert, don’t make it a bad thing and it won’t be.
This performance pressure paradigm is rarely discussed or mentioned as the reason why someone doesn’t launch or succeed in this thought leaders practice game. It is a legitimate explanation for why you sabotaged your success, stayed stuck, or limited your world in some way. It can make you step back or down from your desire to operate a high-performance million dollar practice.
That’s OK… it’s a choice and yours to make… but if you decide to play this game, I offer some thoughts below:
Until next time… stay the course, the world needs leaders, the world needs you!
The pressure is not really real, it’s just thinking it’s so that makes it so.
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