How to Understand Resilience in Peak Pressure Moments

Third Factor CEO Dane Jensen explained how to stay resilient even during the worst possible moments

Curated by: Stefan Palios in partnership with MindFrame Connect

We often laud people who overcome difficult challenges, citing their resilience. But what about peak pressure moments—the times when everything is riding on a specific situation or we are constantly under immense stress for a long period of time?

Cultivating resilience during peak pressure moments is something Dane Jensen knows well, having worked with multiple Olympic athletes and coached executives on how to navigate stressful times through his company Third Factor.

In a video interview with MindFrame Connect, Jensen shared his framework for understanding the ingredients of peak pressure moments and building resilience to not just survive but grow through them.

What all high-pressure situations have in common

When Third Factor conducted a study to learn about high-pressure moments, they asked over 7,000 people about the most pressure they have ever been under. They got a wide range of seemingly disconnected responses, for example, a big exam, swimming too far from shore, or a difficult childbirth.

“You look at this and you're kind of like, ‘okay, pressure is kind of life itself,’” said Jensen. “There's nothing that unites these things.”

After further analysis, Jensen and his team discovered that regardless of the experience, all high-pressure moments have three factors in common.

1. Importance

This is how much the situation actually matters to you.

“The amount of pressure we feel in a situation is directly correlated to how important I have coded the outcome of that situation as,” said Jensen.

2. Uncertainty

No matter how important an outcome is, you won’t feel stressed if you already know what will happen—that’s why uncertainty is the second critical factor.

“We really find pressure at the intersection of importance and uncertainty,” said Jensen.

To illustrate the need for both importance and uncertainty, Jensen talked about two scenarios. The first is a lottery ticket for a huge jackpot. There is significant uncertainty but the overall importance is low because losing won’t impact your life. On the flip side, if you’re in line for a life-saving surgery with a 90% success rate, you are likely to be stressed about the 10% uncertainty because the outcome is incredibly important to you.

3. Volume

How much you have to do becomes a “force multiplier” of pressure, though it may not cause pressure by itself.

“What's the sheer volume of tasks, of decisions, of distractions that surround our important [and] uncertain situations?” said Jensen.

The two kinds of pressure

Jensen and his team found pressure comes in two primary forms.

1. Peak Pressure: This is what Jensen called “violent collisions” of importance and uncertainty. For example, a big pitch meeting or another moment that has a binary outcome—if you perform well, you get a good outcome and if you perform badly, you get a bad outcome.

2. Long Haul Pressure: This is when you have something important and uncertain, but the primary issue is the “weight,” meaning that tasks keep coming at you over an extended period.

“You might think those are similar skill sets,” said Jensen. “Navigating pressure is navigating pressure. It's not really the case. What I've actually learned is that navigating the long haul is quite different than nailing peak pressure moments.”

Pressure is a double-edged sword

Through his work, Jensen has found that pressure is “a uniquely human experience that manifests quite similarly across very different domains.” For example, the human body tends to respond in the same way–changing heartbeat, shallow breathing, and muscle tension–regardless of what’s causing the feeling of pressure.

The good news is that if pressure manifests similarly, lessons from one domain also transfer to another.

Unfortunately, though, Jensen also learned that pressure is a double-edged sword. It can lead to world-record performances as it does at the Olympics or in global corporations. However, it can also be destructive; Jensen talked about how pressure is a key factor in the workplace mental health crisis and how stress is a leading cause of short-term disability for employees.

This reality is why Jensen’s work focuses on how the most successful people navigate pressure in the long run. What he found is that people who have both achievement and high satisfaction/low regret over long periods of time are what he calls “pressure ambidextrous” individuals.

“They can navigate the long haul of pressure—they can keep their motivation, their health, their satisfaction intact, and they're able to nail their peak pressure moments,” said Jensen.

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