Pressure brings performance – or does it?

Free Throw Basketball

“Pressure brings performance”

You may have heard this saying.

It’s a nice maxim, but is it just a story we tell ourselves to try and suppress the fear?

On ‘The Moment’ podcast hosted by Billions creator Brian Koppelman, author Steven Pressfield and Koppelman talk about pressure and performance through the lens of basketball, and by asking two simple questions.

The first question:

Who would you choose to take a foul shot if your life depended on it? [1]

And the second:

Would you tell them?

The answer to the first is probably a professional basketball player.

The answer to the second – probably not. 

Just tell them to step up and take the foul shot. That’s what they do. That’s what they practice. To make the shot.

There’s something that happens to nearly us when there is pressure, or at least our perception of it (after all, the world we experience isn’t really out there; it’s just our perception of it). 

Rehearsing for that is hard. 

There are a few hacks – before practicing your talk or your free throw you can try to simulate the feeling by doing a load of push ups, or drinking 3 coffees.

These can help, but what Pressfield argues is that practice is more likely to bring performance. Doing the work, putting in the reps. 

The pressure doesn’t bring performance, the practice does.

The practice brings out the performance, in spite of the pressure.

Look like we’ve just gotta keep practicing.


Steven Pressfield on ‘The Moment’

[1] You don’t need to like basketball to get the point. It could be a foul shot, open heart surgery, landing a plane, whatever.

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