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Performance Under Pressure – What Elite Business People and Elite Athletes have in Common


Pressure is a topic that often surfaces when it comes to discussions about performance in both elite sports and in the corporate business environment. There are various views and theories about what it is and what it isn’t, but pressure always seems to be linked to performance or a lack thereof. The terms stress and pressure are often used interchangeably, but this is where a distinction should be made. Pressure and stress are not the same thing.

Pressure is often a combination of external and internal expectations and it will be naive to think that the things we do in business and sport does not matter and that there is nothing at stake. Pressure, however, is the stressor or trigger we encounter, which can be external (people, places, situations, things etc.) or internal (thought distortions and thinking styles). Stress, on the other hand, is the reaction we have to pressure, whether the pressure is real or imagined. This stress reaction is the problem and this is interfering with performance – not the pressure.

Although all business and sports people are constantly under pressure, not everybody is reacting with the same stress response. Before we can look at why people have different responses to pressure, we first need to look at what happens when we are faced with pressure.

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