Want to Improve? Put Some Pressure On Yourself

We’d be surprised what we’re capable of.

Keith Horton
May 16, 2019 · 6 min read
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Photo by Andrew Neel on Unsplash

One odd workday, my boss approaches and tells me there’s a BIG project that has to be done by the end of the day. My day was going great until that point.

Somehow, I was selected to do the job. Don’t have a reason why this was, but it’s what happened. Some would say that I was qualified, but I’d only been there for 6 months. I wasn’t expecting this at all.

I was faced with an onslaught of decisions to make in about 5 seconds.

One of those decisions was determining whether or not this job was worth the effort. Typically, moments like these don’t come to mind unless things are extremely boring or things get unusually difficult.

This moment was definitely the latter.

Another option was to do everything in my power to finish with the highest quality work I could give, but it would take some effort — effort I hadn’t been forced to give at this particular job, yet.

Or, I could throw some garbage together real quick. I could get it done in record time, spare him the time he’d have to wait. That’s always easier.

Let me add that it was well after lunch time when he told me this. At first, I thought it was a joke. But I soon realized that this was nothing funny about it.

Obviously, I could’ve told him I wasn’t going to be able to do the project. I mean, you’re telling me to do something major with nearly 3 hours to spare. That’s an easy no.

But I went with it. He gave me what I needed to do, and I was off, either to embarrass myself or make a huge statement of what I was capable of accomplishing under pressure.

Before I got started, the most irrelevant thoughts came to mind, though. I remembered that I needed to clear my workspace. I’d been meaning to do that for some time.

Then, I remembered that I forgot to take out the trash yesterday.

My thoughts were everywhere. But if I wanted to knock this project out of the park, I’d have to focus on this and this alone.

Two hours in and I’m halfway done. Hadn’t really had time to thoroughly check for errors or anything. If I did, I couldn’t tell. I thought only thirty minutes had passed by, not two whole hours.

I pieced together the project little by little — surprising myself with the progress I’d made. I had to go off basically nothing but my intuition, because I didn’t have much experience with something like this, definitely not by myself.

Near the end, I discovered that I could actually do this. Adrenaline hit me like an 18 wheeler, and so did a ton of random ideas.

Fifteen minutes until the end of the day, and I’m putting the cherry on top of the cake.

I honestly did all I could do, given the time constraints. If he didn’t like what I presented, then it was what it was. I knew the amount of effort I put into it.

The next morning he calls me into his office, which wasn't really an office. It was more like a room with a desk, a couple chairs, and no walls — elevated above everyone else’s workspace. He tells me what a great job I did and what I could improve on.

To be honest, I expected the worst. But hearing that really made my day. I took the praise and those critical words of advice, ate ’em, and walked away, feeling like a freshly-printed pile of a million dollars.

We’d be surprised what we’re capable of doing under pressure.

Pressure is the result of a known consequence. Either it’s after one, bringing on another. Or, it hasn’t happened, yet.

Such consequences are needed to get the creative juices flowing (intended or unintended) — like, having 24 hours left to submit a project for a client.

Knowing that you have a limited amount of time really lights a fire behind a person who is accustomed to having as much time as they want. Squandering time is no valid option.

Life is not all about being comfortable. In fact, it’s more on the contrary.

Those who get used to being uncomfortable, especially under pressure, are those who perfect the skills they have and maybe add to them.

This pressure makes them think critically about what decisions they will make going forward, sorting through what would enhance the outcome of the situation and what would only make things worse.

As a result, we surprise ourselves with what happens. We either discover that we are extremely ill prepared and should work on those weak areas, or we find out that we’ve had this astonishing amount of knowledge and skill you didn’t even know you had.

It’s in those moments we discover that we are capable of doing more than we think. But you’ll never find that out if you’re never in an uncomfortable situation.

Pressure brings out the best in us.

Those moments when I thought that given up would be the best option were moments I felt as if I had nothing to offer, like the amount of pressure wasn’t doing anything for me.

It’s something about being forced to get things done, even when I have no desire to finish them.

I know I don’t have much time to waste. All of a sudden, time becomes more precious than ever before. I realize that I don’t have the leisure of comfortably doing what I want. My options dissolve as time zooms by.

It’s easy to think that the only thing we’ve accomplished by being forced to finish a task under pressure is the task alone.

But so much more transpires along the way, if we decide to continue.

…We actually improve.

But does pressure always bring out the best in a person?

That depends on the individual.

Pressure ultimately offers us two options — give our best or none at all.

If we give our best under pressure, we refine whatever it is we do, even if we fail beyond comprehension.

If we decide to take the easy way out, running from the difficulty pressure comes with, we remain the same or worsen those skills we already possess.

Falling short of a goal or task isn’t the problem. The issue is whether or not we gave our best.

If we did, we can readjust and try again. The number of attempts mean nothing. In my opinion, the more, the better.

If we didn’t give our best, we’re not getting any closer to reaching what we set out to do. We get closer to that mark after we decide to put our best foot forward.

Failing under pressure is a part of improving. Feeling bad about not accomplishing something is inevitable. That distressing sentiment will be there every time.

But understanding the benefits of failing under pressure, all while doing the best we can, is what makes failing worthwhile. With this in mind, we won’t fear what would happen if we failed…we’ll only improve, getting one step closer to where we want to be.

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Keith Horton

Written by

25 | I’m somewhere writing about creative ways to be more productive | Contact: keithhortn@gmail.com

The Startup

Medium's largest active publication, followed by +734K people. Follow to join our community.

Keith Horton

Written by

25 | I’m somewhere writing about creative ways to be more productive | Contact: keithhortn@gmail.com

The Startup

Medium's largest active publication, followed by +734K people. Follow to join our community.

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