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5P's of Processing Pressure - Ponder

It’s like pressing pause on your TV. Everything can be seen clearly and all of the movement is frozen and noise is hushed. In that moment, every intricate detail can be examined before pressing play again. Sci-fi movies use this to great effect as the hero freezes all that is around them to examine each detail in order to decide their response.

Last week we looked at the first P of the ‘5P’s of processing pressure’ which was to PAUSE.

  • Pause

  • Ponder

  • Partner

  • Present

  • Practise

This week we look at the second, PONDER. This is taking a moment to think about the issues, ponder the scene and coaching yourself through the best way forward. So, what are the key elements of Ponder?

  • Manage your emotions

  • Ponder the Purpose

Manage your emotions

As you approach our office at Everyday Leader, there is a short bridge that goes over a moat. It’s wide enough to get a large lorry over it, but most people who drive to our office say, ‘that bridge is a bit scary’. The reason some find it scary is that there are no sides to the bridge. There is plenty of width, but with no sides, people find themselves telling themselves that they will drive off the side. It’s not the bridge, it’s people’s view of the bridge. Their thoughts of ‘it would be easy to go off the side’ leads to feelings of nervousness and then the emotions of worry and fear. Epictitus, the Greek philosopher said, “Men are disturbed not by things, but by the view which they take of them.” If we are going to process pressure well, we need to understand our thinking. Two simple questions help us in this moment:

  • What emotions am I feelings?

  • What am I thinking?

When we feel out of control, it feels like a threat and so our body releases Cortisol, the stress hormone, that prepares you for fight or flight. So, it is important to manage your emotions, to enable you to think more clearly under pressure. Steve Peters, in his book Chimp Paradox, explains that our emotional brain centre, Amygdala, is like an agitated chimp in emotional moments. The first thing to help your chimp is to acknowledge your emotions. The chimp feels acknowledged too and therefore slows the releasing the threat hormone of Cortisol.

In my work with clients, they often describe emotions like fear and worry when talking about their traumatic moments. I help them to identify emotions and body feelings that they want and what emotions they would want instead and to consider what actions would help generate those more positive feelings. When controlling your emotions in a high-pressure moment, it is about asking yourself, “If I was looking on this situation from the outside, what is the reaction I think would be most helpful?” Thinking about the action that would generate more positive emotions mean that we control those emotions, not the situation.

As a football penalty taker steps up to take the penalty, they need to understand in their own mind that this is only just kicking a ball to go in a net 2.4m tall and 7m wide. The goal keeper is 1.9m tall and 60cm wide and it is just like kicking it at a training match. Getting your thinking under control as you ponder is crucial. You are asking yourself

  • Demands – What is required of me? How hard is it?

  • Ability – Do I have the skills for the job and what skills are needed?

  • Consequences – What is actually at stake?

I remember the pressure of having to tell staff that a colleague had died the previous evening. It is too easy for the mind to think of all the things that could go wrong with this. But using DAC, it looks like this:

  • Demands – tell my staff clearly and sensitively that their colleague had died.

  • Ability – I need to speak clearly, compassionately and sensitively. I have those skills. I have led funerals; I have given a message to others of someone dying before.

  • Consequences – my reputation as a compassionate leader

Broken down like this, it enabled me to see that I was just the right person to do this. I had the compassion and skills to do this sensitively.

Ponder the Purpose

When the sci-fi movie pauses for the hero to evaluate, they have one clear thing in their mind, their goal. Everything is processed through that vision of wanting to achieve the goal. So, in the ponder, it is about coaching yourself through the situation

  • Goal – what is it I want to achieve from this?

  • Reality – what is the current situation, good, bad and indifferent? What have I got to sort out?

  • Options – What things could I choose to rectify this? Not just the first one in my head, but a range of options that I could choose. Think wide, think creative.

  • Way forward – Which of these ideas will get me the best option?

I have found, even in the tightest of moments, there is time for a quick thought about

  • What do we want to get out of this?

  • What options do I have?

  • Which is my best choice?

In less than a minute you can think about what you want, 3 things you could do and choose the one thing you think will get the best outcome in this moment. Even a brief moment to ponder is better than no pondering at all. Then telling those working alongside you of your thought process and what you intend to do, so they understand how you have come to your conclusion, helps get them onboard.

Pondering allows you to seek, soothe and still unhelpful emotions. It allows you to switch from your emotional centre of your brain, the Amygdala, to the frontal lobe for more constructive thinking to gain clarity and a plan. Go on, try it. PAUSE and PONDER under pressure.

If you would like help to review and reframe your pressure, contact us at Everyday Leader. We can empower you to gain clarity with some simple questions to help you understand and manage it better. Give us a call at 01449 710438 or email if you would like us to help you explore this and empower you.


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