In two situations that are relatively the same, why do two different people react in different ways?

  • One responds having a meltdown and being unable to function.
  • The other is unmoved by the situation and responds in a calm manner, handling the problem.

The answer lies in the individual’s ability to handle pressure – an invaluable soft skill, as how one reacts to a situation is essential for work, marriage and life.

The British special forces SAS value this skill – as a unit whose daily reality is executing dangerous missions, being unable to handle pressure is the difference between life and death.

In the book SAS: Who Dares Wins: Leadership Secrets from the Special Forces, this details how they deal with pressure.

The post discusses ideas from the book, with actions to carry out these approaches as civilians.

When facing the challenge of a situation, you can handle the pressure by:

  • Recognise you have been given the responsibility for a reason – you have been seen as experienced and talented enough to perform the task, so remember this to not let the pressure get to you.
  • Accept the fear – stress and anxiety can be good if we keep this under control at manageable levels. Accept the challenge and find opportunities to simulate a comfortable level of stress.
  • Maintain focus – there is no point complaining about the pressure from a situation, this just spreads negative vibes. Think how you are going to address the problem and step up to create new opportunities.
  • Slow the situation down – when under pressure you can handle it by taking a moment to pause and not let it get to you. Use the SAS Breath, Recalibrate, Deliver method to get it done.

How to we apply these concepts? Let’s take a closer look…

Responsibility is given for a reason

Imposter syndrome is doubting yourself and feeling that you are not worthy of a given responsibility. This mindset creates an imagined, internal pressure.

In my career my doubts are always highest when I start new roles. I feel like a fraud, who has somehow managed to deceive the recruitment process to carry out a role I am not worthy to do.

The SAS endure tough training to become part of the unit, as civilians we undergo our own achievements to get where we are:

  • Recognise your talent and accept that you have got where you are on merit, not through deceit.
  • Embrace your authentic self – accept you are not perfect and infallible, but focusing on doing your best.

In my situation, I apply these methods and seek regular feedback on my performance to ensure that I am performing to the expected standard.

Accept the fear

It’s important to put ourselves out of our comfort zone to self-improve.

Although stress and anxiety may be seen as a bad thing, with the right levels of control it actually helps our growth.

Think your job is stressful? In the SAS they have to do their job with bullets flying overhead.

In this type of role, they can’t piss their pants and run away – they manage to get the job done by accepting their fears.

Do this by:

  • Finding opportunities to go out of your comfort zone.
  • Challenge yourself daily.
  • Face your fears, for example, if you hate heights, learn rock climbing.
  • Stretch yourself with continuous growth. In the gym, you get better setting a regular routine to push yourself. Think, how you can do this in your whole life?

Maintain focus

Early in my career, I was put in a role I didn’t want to do because a colleague had let the team down and I was expected to step-up

For various reasons, the situation felt unfair.

Luckily I had been listening to Jim Rohn for motivation and I remember him saying that in order to get the next role you work hard in the current role.

I kept quiet and got on with it.

The SAS has a similar point of view, there is no point complaining about pressure put on by an unfair situation because they recognise as a team that negativity spreads and impacts performance.

Therefore maintain focus on the end goal and:

  • Relish opportunities presented to you.
  • Think about the bigger picture – how does the situation help you?

In my above example, I utilised the experience to improve my knowledge of the company and show people what I could do.

Slow the situation down

When pressure hits we become sloppy and more prone to mistakes – think about when you last had a near miss while driving you are shaken by the situation that your driving suddenly seems to have deteriorated.

The SAS approach is to slow the situation down. In Who Dares Wins, they talk about breath, recalibrate, deliver – pausing to take a moment:

  • Breath: to take a pause, so you don’t lose control and overreact.
  • Recalibrate: think through the options, reject the impulsive aggression.
  • Deliver: carry out the reframed approach to completing the action.

In my role as a father I take this approach when my daughter shows undesirable behaviour traits:

  • Breath: I pause to not react in haste.
  • Recalibrate: I remind myself she is still young and learning boundaries.
  • Deliver: I react calmly, responding to the situation appropriately.

When you feel under pressure from a situation, remind yourself of these three steps and follow them appropriately – it’s a useful tool to help keep cool.

When it all goes wrong…

In all roles in life, these approaches can be applied to pressure.

With the best will in the world, there will be situations where this guidance goes out the window. When things go wrong, simply reflect on the mistake and think how the approach can be applied better next time a similar situation occurs.

Mastering your emotions illustrates your ability to take control of a number of responsibilities and shows you can be trusted. Keep practising techniques to manage pressure and being aware of it produces instant results. Remember:

Breath, recalibrate, deliver.

Thanks to the book SAS: Who Dares Wins: Leadership Secrets from the Special Forces, for the inspiration behind this post.

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2 thoughts on “Handling Pressure: Lessons From The SAS

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