Pressure to Perform

Pressure to Perform

Matt Church

Matt Church

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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:

  • Don’t hide from this pressure behind lower fees, safer audience, someone else selling you, or the one-to-one delivery modes. Get out from the small lights and step into the spotlight. Now you are in the light, is it any different? I suspect you will find it’s not. It’s bigger, sure you are doing things that few others do (30,000 people in New Orleans convention centre anyone?) but you are still the same awareness you were before. Nothing changed. Your experience is bigger and extra – ordinary… but you are still you. Your life is still there. It’s just expanded. And as a result, the reward expands too.


  • If you are going to play this game, know that you are signing up for a continuous improvement commitment. You are committing to tweaking 100 things by 1% and as a result building a practice that is 100% better tomorrow than it was yesterday. Continuous growth, learning, and improvement. Don’t stay stuck in the past re-reading letters from your glory days. Commit to being better, not being the best. Foster a growth mindset, not a comparative market assessment. Who cares what you used to do or what others are doing? What do you want to do next?


  • Come from service, not ego. When you are doing all this to feel good about yourself, you become fragile and focused on the wrong things. You take credit where you shouldn’t and lay blame where it doesn’t belong. When you are doing all this from a deep true sense of service, then even when you get it wrong, it’s appreciated. Failure is simply feedback and as a result you can’t fail.


  • On failure, you can fail doing what you don’t want and playing it small. So why not risk failing playing a bigger game? Don’t shrink your way to a great practice, expand your view of what’s possible. Dealing with pressure to perform, you have three choices: the pressure either breaks you or makes you or you use it to break through to a new level of operating. A hero of mine, and early-stage motivational speaker, Cavett Robert, used to say that “life is a grindstone, whether it wears you down or polishes you up, is up to you.”


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.


Matt Church Signature


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