Life is naturally ‘high pressure'...peppered with situations that make intense demands upon you. Perhaps it’s a public performance or personal rejection, an urgent problem or crucial exam, an exquisite love or painful loss, a confrontation or golden chance.
Any one of those scenarios could propel your life forward, or seriously de-rail you, depending on how you handle it.
Why is high pressure so powerfully transforming?
Just as a master blacksmith can only shape metal when it’s glowing hot, malleable and ready to be worked on, likewise we humans need a high-pressure challenge to sufficiently engage our thinking, emotions, body and behaviour, so that major change is possible.
This is why hard exercise can sculpt the body;
why confronting a deep fear can rapidly de-fuse it;
why sharing a tough adventure can create a loving friendship.
It’s as if the high-pressure challenge allows the cold cast-iron of your mind, body and behaviour to become molten hot and highly flexible. That hot-iron situation is now an opportunity… and by applying a skillful response at that highly receptive moment, you can swiftly transform your abilities.
Knowing how is highly valued. Humans of every creed and culture welcome and reward the individual who demonstrates the kind of ‘true grit’ to work skillfully while the iron’s hot, whether that person is a midwife or emergency-room medic, a combat veteran or steadfast friend.
And it’s not just those who cope well with problems thrust upon them, who command our respect. We equally admire those with the confidence to actively create high pressure so as to positively transform a situation: it’s the daring joker who bursts us into laughter, the tough teacher inspiring us further, the entrepreneur building a business. We also see this quality in the musician who moves us, the writer who intrigues us, and the romantic whose passion delights. Such individuals can change the game, turn the tide, clinch the deal. They ignite, invent, adventure and surprise. This entails not just turning up the ‘heat’, but knowing how to ride it.
Our instinctive reverence for such know-how is well deserved. Life is awash with sudden problems, fleeting opportunities, and the need to take the initiative. The world rightly prizes those who can.
And it can be learned.
The furthest edge of what you can stand, is the learning-edge, and the more time you can spend there training, if you know how to respond in helpful ways, the better you’ll become at whatever skill of mind & body you choose to work on. This principle explains why Olympic athletes might want to train in the thin air of high-altitude; why concert pianists practice with deliberate distractions; why language-learners immerse themselves among native speakers. They know that the most difficult training, if designed so it doesn’t overwhelm you, can bring the greatest improvements. When you strive, you thrive.
Anyone of us can achieve such positive transformation.
Bear in mind that bomb-disposal teams are crewed by individuals who are often terrified before they learn their skills of emotional, physical and intellectual prowess under high pressure… skills which then enable them to welcome the extraordinary challenges they encounter.
And you have done the same: remember how your learning to swim well, entirely transformed your relationship with deep water? Being out of your depth was no longer a disaster. What once so upset you, became a sought-after joy.
The mistake we can sometimes make when trying to learn new skills, is rather than work at the edge of what we can’t yet manage, we tend to practice time and again what we can easily do already. The result of this ‘luke warm practice’, is that we get very good at being C grade. We master the mediocre. Because of this mistaken strategy, we might reach a modest level at something - our work, hobbies, sports, and even our closest relationships - but we don’t improve from that point onwards because we stop challenging ourselves.
Yet, it’s not just the high pressure that’s needed.
You need the knowhow: a small set of key ingredients which allow the swift & satisfying acquisition of any new skill of mind, body or emotion.
They aren’t rocket science, but those key ingredients are far from common knowledge. And their presence or absence in training explains why you probably learned rather well how to swim, ride a bicycle and drive a car, but you were never even close to being comfortable with classroom French, partner-dancing, public speaking, or exams.
The hot-iron needs the know-how before good things can happen.
Hot-iron, high-pressure situations are neither fun nor easy.
Their intensity makes them damn hard work. But that intensity also makes them deeply rewarding, because when you’re operating at the furthest edge of your abilities like that, it can bring out the very best in you. Learn to respond skillfully in those super-heated situations, and you can make profoundly satisfying progress with whatever… and whoever… is most important to you.
And that’s not too grand an ambition, because once you decide to actively seek-out the opportunities contained within high-pressure challenges…once you learn to take command of that transforming heat so as to craft a really helpful improvement … then creatively channeling that pressure can be the measure & the making of you. Every arena of your personal & professional life can flourish.
You are intended by Nature to be wonderfully versatile in mind, body & behaviour, and if you don’t use this potential, if you let yourself grow brittle and rusty, it won’t feel right. You want and need to be challenged to the limit of your abilities, because that ‘stretching forward as far as you dare’ will spur highly rewarding improvements.
Life is what happens to us.
Living is what we do about it.
And living life well needs HotIron-KnowHow…
because at the heart of well-being, is well-doing, which means having the will & the skill to create something beautiful from whatever life brings our way... to boldly embrace the problems & opportunities, the setbacks & successes, the tragedies & triumphs, so as to channel their powerful energy into something deeply positive of which we can be proud, and to do all of this in harmony with the healthy natural world.
For each of us to create this welcome rapport with life… a rapport that brings profound personal rewards while also benefitting those around us, we would do well to ask not what ‘things’ we need to have, but what ‘skills’ we need to develop.
Enjoy the sample extracts below.
Wishing you well!
Nick Baylis + Erin Love + Richard Sullivan