One of the aspects of the psychology of performance that fascinates me most is how people interpret and handle the concept of pressure. I’m going to provide you with my own perspective on this topic, one that’s based on my years of research and personal experience working in the field with professional athletes and gamers at the highest level.
I do an extensive amount of work in the world of collegiate and professional swimming. One of the best swimmers in the world at the moment is an Englishman by the name of Adam Peaty. He’s won multiple Olympic and international medals and is, far and away, the best swimmer in the world in his events, the 50m and 100m breaststroke. Going into his first Olympics in 2016, Adam was a rising star who a lot of people were expecting to do well and probably even win gold. He was asked by an interviewer whether he was feeling a lot of pressure going into the Olympics due to the level of expectations. This is what he had to say:
“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 some extent, people use it as an excuse for doing badly. It’s something I have never really understood. I have never really felt pressure. Mel (Adam’s coach) and I say, ‘Today’s a good day, we are either going to have a good one or a bad one.’ What’s the worst that can happen? You’re going to come in second?”
Damian Lillard is a point guard in the NBA for the Portland Trailblazers, who are currently in the playoffs trying to get themselves to the NBA finals for the first time in years. From the outside, there’s a lot of “pressure” and expectation for them to overcome the Golden State Warriors and make it to the finals. When asked whether or not he felt an immense amount of pressure to win basketball games and fulfill people’s expectations of him, this is what he had to say:
“Pressure? Nah. Fam, this is just playing ball. Pressure is the homeless man who doesn’t know where his next meal is coming from. Pressure is the single mom who is trying to scuffle and pay her rent. We get paid a lot of money to play a game. Don’t get me wrong—there are challenges. But to call it pressure is almost an insult to regular people.”
Autumn Burchett is a professional Magic player and member of the Magic Pro League. They were also the winner of the first Mythic Championship event that served as the official switch over from the Pro Tour. Throughout that tournament, they showed incredible composure and poise to keep themselves focused and perform their best, despite having to overcome some of the best players in the world, such as Reid Duke in the semifinals, to win the tournament. I follow Autumn on Twitter, and not too long ago, they tweeted out this absolute pearl of wisdom that is the perfect encapsulation of my perspective on the concept of pressure:
“Remember that secretly there is no pressure other than what you place on yourself. Results don’t matter—all there is is you and the process. And you’re great so as long as you carry out the process and enjoy it, what will come will come.”
To sum up my views on the concept of pressure, it’s simple: It doesn’t exist. Well, to be more clear, it only exists if you approach the game with a mindset that creates it and places it upon yourself. With the right mindset and mental approach, pressure doesn’t exist, even in the most high stakes situations in the game.
There’s a great misconception with pressure that, in certain situations, it is an automatic element of that situation that is completely unavoidable. For example, many people would say that sitting at the final table of a Mythic Championship with tens of thousands of dollars on the line and having to play well in order to succeed, win that money, and enshrine yourself in the history of the game by winning a Mythic Championship is a situation where pressure is an automatic. That situation and pressure are completely synonymous with one another and are totally inseparable.
Nothing could be further from the truth.
Pressure is never an automatic because pressure is merely a by-product of your mindset and perspective. You could easily craft a mindset and perspective that eliminates any sensations of pressure, regardless of how high stakes a situation is. As an example, all we have to do is look at what Autumn Burchett said and we have an insight as to what their mindset and perspective was like sitting at the final table of a Mythic Championship. Even in that high stakes situation, they didn’t feel any pressure, just as Adam Peaty doesn’t feel pressure swimming in the Olympics and Damian Lillard doesn’t feel pressure playing in the NBA playoffs. They all have a mindset and approach that frees them from the burden of pressure and allows their talents to be executed to their fullest, performed their best, and succeed.
Take a moment to think about the next Magic tournament you’re going to be playing in. Now, imagine if you walked into that tournament with the following mindset and perspective:
“I’m simply going to focus on playing the best games of Magic that I can and, most importantly, have fun and enjoy the game that I love to play. I’m going to do my best to win. No matter what happens, I’m going to have a great outcome because I’m either going to win and succeed, or I’m going to lose and learn from the experience. In the end, I benefit either way.”
With this mindset and mental approach toward your tournament, I guarantee that you’re not going to feel any pressure and it’s going to be much easier for you to go, stay calm, be relaxed, have fun, enjoy the game, and play your best. Which, as a side effect, is going to greatly increase your chances of winning, ironically enough.
Now, some people will say, “Pressure is a great thing! I perform better under pressure!” Nonsense. That is just ego-building and an Appeal To Accomplishment Fallacy. You don’t perform well and win because you feel really nervous, stressed, and tense. You perform well and win despite feeling really nervous, stressed, and tense. Sensations of pressure and “survival-mode” are beneficial for actual survival situations, not when you need to think calmly and clearly so that you can play a very technical game like Magic effectively and efficiently.
In games of Magic, pressure doesn’t exist and by crafting a mindset and perspective that allows you to free yourself from the unnecessary shackles of pressure, you’ll be far better off for it. Focus on fun, enjoyment, process, and learning. Let those take priority of whether you win or lose.
Thanks for reading, and bye for now!