How To Stay Calm And Perform Under Pressure


Learn useful tips on how to stay calm under pressure

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In this article Andreas von der Heydt shows us some smart ways to remain calm and perform under pressure.

I am sure most of us know that learning to be calm under pressure is helpful in all areas of our lives. Whenever we get into a jam, whenever you get into a crisis or an emergency, it is important to remember that when you become the calmest person in the room you will always be able to easily  figure out the solution. When adversity strikes, that’s when you have to be the most calm. Take a step back, stay strong, stay grounded and press on. (LL Cool J ) 

Imagine you're about to miss your monthly sales targets, you do not get a crucial contract signed within an agreed timeframe, you've forgotten to answer an urgent request from one of your key customers, your boss has been calling you three times in the past two hours to get a super urgent analysis for his board meeting from you, or something went wrong which seriously affects your business and possibly offsets other stakeholders.
In today's fast changing and highly complex (business) world, this can happen easily. A coachee of mine, a talented young marketing manager, some weeks ago told me that she had just missed an essential deadline for a major product launch. She and her team had been working extremely hard for many months to prepare a "perfect“ launch, but could not make it on time as a third-party supplier let them down in the very last moment. They all were very disappointed and frustrated, still they did not want to give up and tried not to waste any time, they rapidly got on their feet again, everyone was busy doing anything with any kind of apparent activity. In retrospect many of those activities – she admitted - did not make any sense.

Headless Chicken Syndrome

My friend described those days to me as a period of collective disorientation and non-coordinated hyper-activity. For her it was a complete new experience. Pushed by her line managers to deliver immediate results, she lost her usual impressive capability to see the big picture. She "forgot“ to contemplate, to analyze the status quo, and to calmly discuss with her team possible solutions. Instead she got nervous and was more worried about how her boss would think about her than about how to draft together with her team a solid alternative plan. She suffered from what I call the Headless Chicken Syndrome. Have you ever watched a headless chicken jump and flap around as if in search of its lost head? My friend was acting just like a headless chicken. She had entered Headless Chicken Syndrome without realizing it. She was overwhelmed by the situation, she and her team created more and more to-do lists, started non-coordinated initiatives, and generated a disconnect between the various teams and management. All with best intentions, however, unfortunately without simply sitting still and thinking through the problem.


The most important task of any manager in very stressful, high pressure and extremely demanding situations is to keep calm and to keep one's shirt on. It's not about finding quick solutions in the first place. It's about avoiding chaos, about stabilizing the situation, and re-injecting self-confidence into the organization. And only afterwards looking for adequate solutions.
To get around the risk of facing stressed leadership I'd like to present two formulae which help me to stay even-tempered and focused during critical times and crisis. They are straightforward in concept and with will and repetitive practice also in execution:The START Formula – This is a preventive concept, i.e. knowing and applying it assists in minimizing the risk to encounter possible headless chicken situations.The SWITCH Formula – Once you find yourself in a situation where you are about to lose your head you better exercise this method to stay on course and to keep your cool.

The S.T.A.R.T. Formula

If you live by the START formula you significantly reduce the risk to be dragged into situations where you might lose your temper and head.

S - Stand Up
Make your point and explain your strategy and action plan. Don't allow others pushing you around. Don't be afraid to say no, especially if you’ve already got too much on your plate.

T - Trust
Trust in yourself and others.

A - Actionate
Actionate your strategy and plans. Push back if needed. Eliminate all possible distractions like unnecessary meetings, phone calls, etc.

R - Respond
Be responsive and responsible. Keep your line managers, peers, and all other stakeholders always informed and regularly ask for their opinions. If you need help, be brave enough to ask for it.

T - Take It Easy
Don´t take yourself and your tasks too serious. We are all replaceable. Don’t give in to stress or anxiety – no matter how far behind you are or how badly you’ve messed up. Relax.

The S.W.I.T.C.H. Formula

Once you find yourself in deep and unknown waters applying this method will help you to keep your wits and calm.

Stop running and chasing your tail. Sit down. No further movements.

W – Wait
Make sure you allocate yourself as much downtime as necessary.

I – Inhale
Inhale and breathe. It clears your head. It'll balance the analytical processes of the mind with your emotions and gut.

T – Think
Contemplate about the situation you're in. Try to understand the root causes and interdependencies. Important: Always allow more time than you think you’ll need.

C – Calculate
Calculate and plan. Set yourself and your team clear goals. Break them down into monthly, weekly, and daily milestone targets. They should be specific, measurable, actionable, realistic, and time-bound (SMART). Leave a sufficiently big buffer between every task.

H - Head and Proceed
Once you are clear about your objectives and your action plan, and only then, move on and execute.

Final Thought

We all know that the more we rush, the higher the chances we fail. Still, often we do it with or without realizing it. In consequence we often create more waste and churn, trigger unnecessary activities, put too much pressure on others and make them feel uncomfortable, and might fail to spot real problems or real opportunities to improve.
What do you think?

Andreas von der Heydt is the Head of Kindle Content at Amazon in Germany. Before that he hold various senior management positions at Amazon and L'Oréal. He's a leadership expert and management coach. He also founded Consumer Goods Club. Andreas worked and lived in Europe, Australia, the U.S. and Asia.

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