performing under pressure

The Silver Screen is often filled with nail-biting, white-knuckled tension, explosions and high-risk action scenes. But who is behind the movie magic we love, and what can they teach us about enhancing our performance under pressure in the business world? Judd Wild, a multi-award-winning stuntman from Wild Stunts is here to share his insights.

While it is unlikely that our jobs will require us to be set on fire, roll a speeding car or dangle ourselves from a passing helicopter, we all still deal with pressure in our day-to-day work lives, from tight deadlines or delivering a daunting presentation, to pitching to a new client or attending an interview for your dream job.

Research shows that our brains can’t tell the difference between a physical threat and a perceived threat, such as an upset boss. The fight-or-flight reaction can occur in either situation. Many of us are familiar with how this survival mechanism can hinder our performance, focus, and productivity – often at the most critical of times. So how should you handle it from here?

In their book Performing Under Pressure: The Science of Doing Your Best When It Matters Most, Hendrie Weisinger and J.P. Pawliw-Fry give us an enlightening finding: the difference between regular and highly successful people is not that the latter group thrives under pressure, but rather that they are better able to mitigate its negative effects.

The ability to perform under phenomenal levels of pressure is perhaps the most defining characteristic of a movie stuntman. They excel when the heat is turned up. They are able to remain focused on the things that really matter in the face of a multitude of potential threats and distractions, and, most importantly, they are able to maintain their belief in themselves in the most trying circumstances.

Judd Wild is one such Stuntman with over a decade of experience performing high-pressure stunts on scores of films – from Mad Max: Fury Road and X-Men Origins: Wolverine right through to the worldwide YouTube sensation that is RackaRacka. Not only is Judd an in-demand performer, he’s also made the exciting leap to Stunt Coordinator and Action Designer for Wild Stunts.

Judd uses six key strategies to excel under pressure. Here he explains the first three:

Get your butterflies to fly in formation

“The best way to control my nerves in the lead up to the event is to pump myself up into a focused, energised state,” Judd says. “I find this is more beneficial than trying to calm myself down.”

“Those butterflies can be good, I just get them to fly in the one direction – stay sharp and interpret the situation in an activated way. It also protects yourself, for example, if you are a bit too relaxed and you hit the ground, you’re going to hurt yourself. I guess this can be the same as strolling casually into a serious Board meeting. But instead, if you are energised and focused, you are primed for whatever comes at you.”

Remember the five Ps

“Prior Preparation Prevents Poor Performance. It’s pretty self-explanatory,” says Judd.

“The more practice and preparation I put into the rehearsals of a stunt, the better I perform under high pressure because I know what to expect.

“Success isn’t made from those minutes caught on film, but in thousands of hours of practice beforehand. This all helps to counteract the pressure before it even hits. The more prepared I am, the less pressure I feel.”

Breath and stay present

“Just before ‘action’ it’s more about breathing for me. It helps me to get more clarity and be present to move forward. Everything follows suit after that. If I’m not breathing properly through a stunt, my cognitive and technical ability can go slack and I’m not able to respond at an optimum level.”

“Then when it’s ‘go time’ my preparation and muscle memory kicks in. In that moment I don’t need to focus on anything else because the prior work is already there.”

Stay tuned next week for Part 2 when Judd shares his next three strategies with us.

Chrissy Mandalis, Principal Consultant - Business Support, Davidson Corporate