The resilience coach's toolbox part 2

Posted on 22nd June 2020

Managing pressure and performance.

One of the most useful tools that I’ve shared with coaching clients over the years is the Pressure-Performance curve. Psychologists Yerkes and Dodson proposed this theory in 1908, though back then it was referred to as the Inverted-U theory.  Many of my clients have had an ‘aha’ moment when I’ve described the impact of pressure on performance using this model, and how pressure can lead to strain and/or stress. 

This graphic of the curve (source: eyeforpharma Philadelphia), shows the relationship between pressure and performance really clearly. 


As you can see from this graphic, when the level of pressure rises, so does our performance.  This makes lots of sense.  We probably all know that feeling of boredom or inertia that comes from not having enough to do or not enough pressure to motivate us. This is referred to here as ‘rust out’.

On the other hand, there is that great feeling that comes from being ‘in the zone’, ‘on a role’ or at our peak performance.  This is shown here as achieving a balance between being in our comfort and stretch zones

What I want to highlight here is that when the pressure rises beyond our stretch zone, overwhelming our coping skills and resilience, we move into strain.  In the early stages of strain we may notice, for example, fatigue, lack of concentration, forgetfulness, headaches and mood changes.  Our performance starts to suffer and we may try to over compensate by working harder and harder, whilst achieving less and less.

If we don’t take action at this early stage, strain becomes stress and this can result in significant health problems, overwhelm and burn out.  These have a huge impact on our lives and often take a long time to recover from.

Therefore, the key to stress management is to recognise your own early warning signs, take action to alleviate the pressure you are experiencing and to look after your wellbeing.  Why not take a moment now to check in with yourself and to see whether you have any of the early warning signs?  These may include:

·       Physical signs, e.g. headaches, backaches, stomach and bowel problems, skin problems

·       Emotional signs, e.g. mood swings, irritability, lack of confidence, feeling low or anxious

·       Behavioural signs, e.g. accident prone, sleeplessness, drinking more alcohol, restlessness

·       Cognitive signs, e.g. muddled thinking, lack of concentration, error prone, poor decision making

If you become aware that you are exhibiting signs of strain, be sure to act now to alleviate the pressure and take time for some self-care.  See my earlier blog for further advice on how to do this.

Alternatively, why not contact me to discuss whether coaching would be helpful for you during this challenging season.

NB:  If you believe that you have burnout or you’re concerned about any significant mental or physical health issues, please do speak to your GP at the earliest opportunity.

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