Why the story you tell yourself about working best under pressure is a big fat lie

A friend of mine is going for her MBA...

and is always claiming that she works better under pressure. This is why her assignments are a stressful event and why they are always rushed. She’s not alone though. A lot of people claim that they do their best work under the pump but sadly, as popular as this myth is, it’s a big fat lie.

Memory Bias

And it’s a lie that’s very prominent throughout our society. For instance, have you had an interview where you’ve been asked “do you work well under pressure?” – I have. And I said yes, doesn’t everyone? But working well under pressure is not the same as working better or at your best.

Like my friend, you can probably remember some occasions when working up to the deadline worked out super well. And maybe it even felt thrilling. But this, as psychology Professor Joseph Ferrari explains, is a kind of memory bias. He states that people “seem to remember the one time that maybe waiting until the last minute did pay off…, but they forget the other nine times when it didn’t”.


So what about the thrill of the experience? Why do so many people claim to feel this way? Well, psychologist Kyle Simpson, ran some tests and found no correlation between procrastination and sensation seeking. What they did find was that it came down to cognitive dissonance. What this is is a psychological state where your thoughts and reality don’t match up. Leading to unhappiness. To undo the unhappiness someone has to change one set of thoughts to something which DOES match reality. They can then ‘pretend’ that that’s how it’s been all along.

Why pretend rather than just get the work done earlier? To not feel guilty, Simpson says. Often when we know we should be working on something but aren’t, this leads to icky feelings of guilt, which no one really likes, to be honest. In response the person says to themselves ‘I work better under pressure anyway so watching The Black List right now is okay’. And that’s the lie of working better under pressure.

So next time you think to yourself ‘I perform better under pressure’ or ‘I work well at the last minute’ remember that it is just a trick your brain is playing on you. Close down the distractions, set a timer for 25 minutes and focus! Get the work done earlier. Trust me, relaxation feels wayyyyy better than anxiety/adrenaline running through your veins.

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If you need more guidance on this, feel free to book in for a 30 minute chat.

Talk soon,

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