The fallacy of “I work best under pressure”

I have heard lots of people, clients included, say that something along the lines of “I work best under pressure.”

If you “work best under pressure,” that often means that work is very difficult, perhaps because of feelings of fear, anxiety or shame, and that it is only the pressure of an impending external deadline that can overpower those feelings and get you to focus and work. Now, this is how lots of people operate, and it can be OK, but it’s a hard way to live, you often don’t do your best work because of time pressure, and it breaks down when you don’t have that external “gun to your head.” You can easily get stuck in this place forever. Many people do.

Now, in the short term, you an create artificial pressure. You can give your neighbor $200 and tell her that she should give it back to you only if you finish your task by a certain deadline, otherwise she should give it to charity, no negotiating. You can do that, and you may want to.

A better way to work, that you should work towards, is to accept that you feel painful feelings when you sit down to work, let yourself feel them, and then continue working anyway. It may be hard, but you’ll find that you’re able to get work done, and that after a few days or weeks, you’ll feel progress, and the feelings will ease up. It may never go away, but you’ll learn to be productive despite the feelings, and that life will actually be pretty good, and sometimes even pretty easy, if you can just face those painful feelings. There is a school of psychotherapy called “acceptance and commitment.” You accept the fear / shame / etc you feel, and commit to working anyway, as a way of taking care of yourself and achieving the work that is important to you. After a while, you find that it is easier to get started, you don’t need pressure to work anymore, you can just sit down, face any hard feelings you may have, and get to work. This is a much better way to live, it gives you more freedom, more achievement, and it feels better.


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Dave is trained at the Coaches Training Institute and certified by the International Coaching Federation. He has worked with dozens of clients to achieve remarkable results, including revenue growth, clearer strategic direction, enhanced leadership, and promotions to positions of greater responsibility. You can learn more about him at or follow him at @DarkMatterCon, or GooglePlus.

3 Comments to “The fallacy of “I work best under pressure””

  1. Amanda says:

    WOW. Yes, yes, yes – so right on! I learned to overcome this pattern with A LOT of practice and focused determination.

    I know that each person has to do this for himself/herself, but is there any possible way to effectively support other people in our lives who are struggling with this?

    • Dave Kaiser says:

      I find the best way to do this is to 1> tell your own story along these lines 2> ask about the feelings that are causing the struggle; 3> reassure, inspire, and challenge, and if necessary, create the “pressure” they need to get going, if you have the position to do so.

  2. zoe says:

    Wow Olivia might like this

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