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Performance under pressure

Controlling your physiology to optimise your performance

Recent developments in our understanding of the link between emotions and behaviour have highlighted the need for organisational leaders to be more aware of their physiological state.

According to Jezz Moore, a former coach for the GB Junior Rowing Team and founder of Riddle Box, which specialises in executive and high-performance team coaching, ‘We’re all familiar with the concepts of stage fright and have seen top sports stars making irrational decisions at times. These states occur when the physiology of our emotional connections impairs our thinking.’

Jezz stresses the need to understand the differences between an anabolic state – in which our senses are heightened and we think very clearly – and a catabolic state, in which feelings of anger, frustration or even indifference will result in incoherence and chaotic thinking.

‘Emotionally pressurised situations might cause us to move from an anabolic to a catabolic state, and physically, we might experience a higher heart rate, faster breathing, dry mouth and clammy hands – all classic signs of pressure and stress. By identifying these signs, and their underlying causes, we can control them and think more clearly. It’s as if we give ourselves a self-induced lobotomy.’

All too often, a lack of awareness of our capability to control our behaviour, or perhaps just a lack of practice in doing so, leads to anxiety. In order to perform at a high level – in sport, business or any other field – we need to recognise our own emotional map.

Pumped up or calm and focused?

It seems as if many of us also confuse seemingly similar states, such as anger and passion, but these two are on opposite sides of the emotional divide. Some people think you need to be pumped up to perform at your best, but calmness and focus are often more effective.

‘Recognising our physiological state leads to improved emotional literacy,’ says Jezz, ‘and this, in turn, takes us to a position of emotional mastery, in which we can, in any given situation, respond with considered, rational decisions.

‘We know that our emotions can impair our thoughts because emotional processes are both quicker and more powerful that thought processes. In the same way that any sports person might have a game plan and a nutritional plan, we develop emotional plans and we rehearse them repeatedly leading up to a major event, to achieve the best possible outcome.’

Under Sir Clive Woodward, the English team that won the Rugby World Cup in 2003 followed this same principle, known as T-CUP: Thinking correctly under pressure.’

Achieve a competitive advantage

Jezz leads a session on Henley’s Advanced Management Practice programme and the effect is often dramatic; delegates quickly realise how this approach can impact on their own leadership capability, helping them to make important decisions with greater clarity, vision and focus.

Claire Hewitt, Henley’s Head of Learning Design, adds: ‘Having a session with Jezz is a different kind of experiential learning for participants and they come back enthused by the experience. He sets the bar very high, and seeing how these cognitive processes can regulate stress and produce better quality decision making, gives delegates a real competitive advantage.’

Find out more about Henley’s Advanced Management Practice programme.

Jennika Rantanen - Henley Business School Finland

Jennika Rantanen

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