Adam Peaty is an Olympic swimmer from England. He is the 2016 Olympic champion, the 2015 World champion, the 2014 and 2016 European champion, the 2014 Commonwealth champion in the 100 meter breaststroke, the 2015 World champion and 2014 European champion in the 50 meter breaststroke, part of the Great Britain team that won the mixed medley relay world title, and the world record holder as of August 5th 2015 in all three events. He is the first swimmer ever to win both sprint breaststroke events at the same World Championships, and the most successful British swimmer in a single World Championships. He is one of only three British swimmers to have won gold medals at the Olympic, World, European, and Commonwealth Games level, and the only one of them to have held all four gold medals in the same event at the same time.
Adam says that pressure is nothing but an illusion.
“Pressure doesn’t exist. It’s an artificial thing that’s a cloud that some people choose to carry and some choose to shove away. I choose to shove it away, as it doesn’t exist. To a certain extent, people use it as an excuse for doing badly. It’s something I have never really understood. I have never really felt pressure. I enjoy racing because I want to do it. No one’s forcing me. What’s the worst that could happen? I lose a race?”
Andre Pirlo is one of soccer’s greatest ever players. He’s played for some of the biggest clubs in the world with Inter Milan, AC Milan, and Juventus. He has also won the World Cup, the game’s most prestigious tournament and the most watched sporting event in the world.
Andre says pressure is meaningless.
“I don’t feel pressure. I don’t give a toss about it. I spent the afternoon of Sunday, 9 July, 2006 in Berlin sleeping and playing the PlayStation. In the evening, I went out and won the World Cup.”
The common myth is that playing in certain games or tournaments or being in certain situations means that pressure is a given. It’s going to be there whether you want it to or not. But make no mistake: Pressure is self-induced. It’s not something that a player is required to feel when playing. Whether or not you feel pressure is completely down to how you mentally approach your performance.
You could walk into the finals of a Pro Tour and feel absolutely zero pressure. Why? Because whether or not you feel pressure is purely a matter of how you decide to perceive the situation. And you can manipulate your perception of the situation so that, when you go to perform, feelings of pressure simply can’t exist.
Here are several ways you can eliminate the feeling of pressure so you can give yourself the best chance possible of performing to your maximum.
1) Emotionally detach yourself from the results
I talked about this concept in a previous article, “The Best Way To Win.” Overwhelmingly, the greatest source of pressure that players feel in competition comes from the emotional dependency they have with needing to achieve certain outcomes. The more emotionally dependent you are on winning or avoiding losing, the more pressure you’re going to feel when you perform, as every game will be played from the viewpoint of “succeed or fail.” The more detached you are on an emotional level from whether you win or lose, the more pressure simply melts away. It’s impossible for results to put pressure on you if you’re not emotionally dependent on them.
2) Intentionally keep expectations low when performing
Remember: Winning will come to you whether you want it to or not if you simply play to your maximum ability, as results are nothing but a by-product of performance. So focusing or worrying about results when you’re playing is pointless and unnecessary. The more expectations you take with you into a tournament, the more mental weight you’ll have piled on your shoulders each round you play. The fewer expectations you have going in, the less weight you’ll have to play under. Being free of that mental weight will sharpen your focus and allow you to concentrate more on the process that creates the result as opposed to brooding and dwelling on the result itself, meaning that there will be no expectations putting pressure on you as you play. You’d be amazed at how easy it is to surpass your expectations when you don’t have any.
3) Minimize the situation and make it seem as insignificant as possible
The more emotional significance and importance that you place on any given game or tournament, the more pressure you’re going to have to contend with. If you’re able to downplay a game or tournament and make it seem like any other game or tournament of Magic, then you’ll feel vastly less pressure. One of the best habits you can create for yourself as a competitive Magic player is to view every game of Magic as a kitchen table game. When you go to perform, you remind yourself that you’re simply playing Magic, a game you’ve played a bazillion times before and you’re not doing anything different than what you’ve done many, many times before. And it’s true, right? Even if you’re sitting in a Pro Tour final, you’re still playing the same game that you’d be playing if you were playing against a friend at your local shop. It’s 75 cards against 75 cards, using the same rules as every game of Magic. Just because you’re sitting at a different table doesn’t mean the game itself changes. The only thing that changes is the individual cards within the decks. By minimizing the situation and ignoring the external details surrounding it, pressure doesn’t have a chance to exist.
4) Play the matchup, not the opponent
An easy trap to fall into is to get sucked into focusing on who you’re playing against, which can create feelings of unnecessary pressure. Whether it’s because you have to play against a seasoned pro in an individual game, or you’re playing against a field of great players overall, you never want to focus or dwell on who your opponent or opponents are going to be. I have a saying: focus on what you’re playing against, not who you’re playing against. Whoever is sitting in the chair across from you is irrelevant. You’re not playing against another person. You’re playing against another deck. You’re playing against a specific matchup. By focusing on what you’re playing against instead of who you’re playing against, the status of your opponent can’t make you feel any pressure.
5) Keep a healthy perspective
At the beginning of this article, I told the story of Adam Peaty, the British Olympic swimmer. He said, “What’s the worst that can happen? I lose a race?” That’s the perfect example of a healthy perspective, and it’s no coincidence that he’s able to perform at such a high level successfully. It’s easy to get wrapped up in the moment of a game or tournament and lose the bigger overall picture. No matter how important or significant a game or tournament may seem, it doesn’t change the fact that there’s always the next game or tournament. Your career doesn’t end because you lose. And losing doesn’t mean you’re a bad player. Results don’t have to be a reflection of yourself and your ability. As a competitive Magic player, you have to accept that you’re going to win and you’re going to lose. You’re going to have great performances and you’re going to have bad ones. You know that there are going to be times when things go your way and times when they don’t. By keeping the bigger picture in mind, things that seem like a big deal can suddenly become insignificant, evaporating any feelings of pressure.
Pressure is what creates the feelings of nervousness and tension that limit maximum performance. By eliminating the feeling of pressure, you eliminate nerves and tension and give yourself the best chance possible of performing your best.
Alter your perspective, and eliminate the pressure.