Why you should pressure yourself to succeed

Opinions expressed by entrepreneur associates are their own.

When we think of the feeling of “pressure,” the immediate connotation is usually negative. Understandably so – if given the choice, many would choose not to feel pressured in any situation; it is not a very pleasant emotion. Regardless, it can be helpful in all aspects of life, especially in relation to your career journey.

Historian Thomas Carlyle famously said, “no pressure, no diamonds,” indicating that coal could not reach its true potential to become a diamond without it. Similarly, the right amount of stress will help you achieve your goals when you know how to handle it and handle it in a healthy way that doesn’t detract from your overall well-being.

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1. Character over comfort

To some extent, it is a choice. You can go through life prioritizing short-term comfort and avoiding high-pressure situations. It probably won’t be a very satisfying experience, though. It’s natural to prefer easy and comfortable situations — it’s only human. Unfortunately, you will have to endure and welcome more challenging experiences to foster character development and growth.

Without moments that push us, we remain stagnant, and forcing yourself to fight discomfort does your future self a great service. Think of a remarkable achievement—a widely known historical example or something personal that happened in your life. To the best of your knowledge, would that goal have been achieved or that milestone reached without the level of discomfort and pressure?

When I think about the moments in my life where I felt the most proud of myself or when I reached the most rewarding outcome, none of them could have happened without the hard work that led up to it. I have never regretted putting myself in a position of pressure, and I will continue to do so whenever the opportunity arises.

Related: 5 Ways to Become a Top Performer at Any Company

2. Muscle training

As with many things, working with pressure gets easier with practice. It’s like a muscle or a skill – you have to train it to make it stronger. No one walks into the gym for the first time and squats 400 pounds, nor is it recommended. Without training, you will only injure yourself.

There’s a reason why Lionel Messi is consistently chosen to take penalty kicks; he’s already taken on so much and found a way to feel comfortable and successful through what is probably the biggest pressure in the game. He has been put in the situation before and has repeatedly responded to the challenge in a way that other players have not yet mastered.

If you can find a way to accept the moments when the pressure seems to be closing in, it will get easier the more often it happens. Constantly putting yourself in uncomfortable positions will only serve you well in the long run, especially because as you progress and grow, so will the frequency of those moments. It’s a cliché, but true: with great reward comes great responsibility, and as you achieve more or find success, you’ll need that strengthened muscle to handle periods of increased pressure.

Related: A 4-Step Guide to Coping with Failure and Bouncing Back

3. Pressure management

If you’re someone who regularly experiences high levels of pressure, chances are you’re constantly trying to be better in most aspects of life—the two tend to go hand in hand. Even when you lean on the positive side of it, you’ll still have to find a way to manage that pressure.

Different people have different strategies, but something I’ve found to be key is recognizing the adrenaline rush that comes with feeling pressure. On a physical level, the fear you might feel during those moments is not so different from the feeling you get when you’re excited, like climbing to the top of a roller coaster. The trick is to channel that adrenaline towards the latter and use it to fuel excitement rather than fear. Think about what could go right rather than what could go wrong, or if that proves too difficult, let yourself think about what could go wrong and go through it anyway to feel more prepared.

One strategy might be to attract friends with complementary strengths. I could be asked to jump out of a plane tomorrow and not think twice about it, but if you asked me to put on an oxygen tank and go scuba diving, the yes would not come so quickly. Having a friend who may be afraid of heights but feels at home in the water would be a perfect match as we can push each other and release the pressure the other may feel.

Inevitably, the best way to manage pressure is to get comfortable with the physical sensations it causes, but these strategies can be of great help before you get there.

If you’re having trouble reaching a true sense of comfort, viewing pressure through the lens of privilege can be very helpful. Billie Jean King wrote an entire book on the subject in which she said, “Pressure is a privilege—it comes only to those who earn it.” The privilege and opportunity to feel the pressure to compete and perform is not one that everyone experiences. That fact alone can sometimes make it easier to handle. When the going gets tough, know that you should feel that way, but that doesn’t have to stop you from using every tool in your arsenal. If you can take command of the situations that create that good pressure, rather than shying away from it, you’ll end up finding success in a way that’s even more rewarding.

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