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How to stay your best under pressure

(August 8, 2023 Newsletter)

One of the greatest challenges I hear from my clients is remembering to employ the principles we discuss as the heat rises. They tell me they want to remind themselves to…

  • Listen in technicolor

  • Stay grounded in your values

  • Ask coaching questions

  • Offer encouraging reflections

  • Beware of “rescuer mode”

It all makes sense in a safe environment. It’s all possible, when reminded by your coach. But what can you do to stay in the zone when deadlines approach, conflict is imminent, or stress has already set in?

It starts with the body.

Our bodies react faster than thoughts form in our minds.

  • By the time you’re aware of the negative narrative in your mind, your body (your jaw? neck? stomach?) has already tensed up, your breath has shortened, and hormones like cortisol are already racing around your system.

With enough attention and practice, you can become more attuned to the signals your body is sending you and develop habits of self-regulation.

If this concept is new to you (or if it’s familiar but you haven’t played around with it) then my suggestion for the week ahead is as follows:

  1. Get a baseline: Close your eyes and do a quick body scan (do this before X-ing out of this email).

  • Starting at the top of your head and working down to your toes, turn your attention to each of the major sections of your body (head, neck, back, arms, torso, stomach, hips, legs, feet) and just notice how you’re feeling.

  • No harsh self-judgment, please – you’re just gathering information.

  • Pay attention to anything you’re clenching, any pain, and areas that feel neutral too.

  • When you open your eyes, jot down anything notable (“tense right shoulder”)

2. Start to notice changes and differences

  • Repeat the body scan at the end of the workday to see what’s changed.

  • Over the course of the week, see if you can spot any changes in your body when stress enters the scene. If so, keep a log.

3. Choose a principle or tool that you’d want to employ under stress (for inspiration, see list at the top)

  • To keep it top of mind, set physical reminders – a sticky note with a phrase, an image, assign meaning to an object on your desk – so you can snap into your desired headspace more easily.

4. Be your own coach: Keep track of moments when you would have wanted to listen with more curiosity, ask a question instead of offering a directive, etc. Envision what you could have said to yourself to respond at your best.

  • Debrief not from a place of rumination and self-recrimination, but from a loving place of continuous improvement.

You can’t rewire automatic reactions in one week, but you can get started.

  1. Noticing changes in your body can eventually help you recognize patterns.

  2. Having physical reminders around can anchor you to the best version of yourself you want to be.

  3. Tracking your progress can accelerate your progress toward choosing your responses more deliberately.


The Coaching Corner

Ask for more detail about the person’s experience

If, at the end of a meeting, you ask your report what was helpful in the conversation and they offer a specific answer, ask a simple follow up question: “What was helpful about it?”

If, while speaking with a colleague, they tell you that something frustrated them, ask a simple follow up question: “What was frustrating about it?”

If, when debriefing with your own boss, they compliment you on something finished, ask a simple follow up question: “What did you like about it?”

We often blow by these moments, either because we’re in a rush, focused on ourselves, or think it’s not our place to ask for more detail.

  • But one simple follow up question can build trust, signal your interest, and can help the person process out loud an important detail for future implementation.



I’ve been doing a lot of summer reading – here are two books:

  1. Trillion Dollar Coach, in which authors Eric Schmidt, Jonathan Rosenberg, and Alan Eagle summarize the leadership principles of legendary Silicon Valley coach Bill Campbell. Here’s a summary of the summary in 36 slides I appreciated learning about his mentorship style, specifically about coaching for team building.

  2. I’m in the middle of listening to Permission to Speak by Samara Bay, in which she redefines what power and authority sound like. I agree wholeheartedly with the principle that for too long we’ve been teaching women to sound like men to portray authority, and that the more we expand what’s considered “authoritative,” the more space we’ll make for women to lead without twisting ourselves into (male-shaped) pretzels. More to come… I’m less than halfway in but quite fired up about it, so far.


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