Thinking clearly when the pressure is on

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In discussion with a senior leader last week she said “The pressure is relentless, moments to have time to think are a rare luxury, in fact I would go as far saying that majority of leaders and managers experience something similar”.   How those in leadership and management and their people respond under pressure is critical. We can draw on neuroscience for assistance.

We know from Dr David Rock and others’ research ( that neurologically, a number of things occur when the pressure comes on. In response to this pressure, people often feel a sense of threat; the desire to move away from threat is many times stronger than the desire to move towards a positive or rewarding solution. Also, under pressure, people’s attention is magnified easily, triggering a fight-flight response.

When this happens, our field of view, creativity, listening, memory, insight and decision-making all reduce under the “pressure of now”. We actually see less information even though our thinking is fast paced and we are seeing more possible options. Under pressure the noise around us increases which splits and diverts our focus and thinking causing us to respond by trying to accomplish multiple things at once in an endeavour to manage and reduce the pressure.

So what can leaders and managers do?  Dr Trisha Stratford from the Department of Medial and Molecular Biosciences, University of Technology, Sydney, has some simple and practical solutions:

  1. It’s a myth that anyone can complete multiple tasks at the one time effectively.  Our brain finds it challenging to support us in these circumstances.  So simple solution number one is focus on doing one thing at a time – well! Prioritisation, sequencing and timing become the key to reducing pressure.
  2. Simple solutions two is stop and slow down your thinking, 3-4 times a day.  Find those 5-10 minute spaces across your day to attend to your thinking and slow it down.  What happens? Increased clarity, focus and control.

That’s it, nothing complex.  Try it and let us know the result.