Thrive on pressure

Pressure.  The very word strikes fear into many people.  Winners thrive on pressure while losers fear it.

What is pressure?  My definition of pressure is when you absolutely have to do something you are not prepared to do.  If you have to kick a field goal to win a big football game and you aren’t prepared to do it, you are going to be nervous.  You’re going to feel pressure.  But if you’ve really prepared for it, you can’t wait to show people how good you are.

That’s why winners look forward to pressure.  It brings out their best.  People who welcome pressure are more successful.

HarveypressureConversely, pressure can cripple you if you’re not prepared.  When pressure is self-inflicted, it can control you.  Pressure is an attitude.  It’s 10 percent of what is happening and 90 percent of how you handle it.

Don’t be like by friend Mark.  They used to call him “Jigsaw” because every time he was faced with a problem, he went to pieces.

Tennis pro Billie Jean King said:  “Match point is a love-hate relationship.  The torment of ‘Oh, God, what am I doing here?’ and ‘This is it!  This is what I’ve been working for.’  I know this is why I paid the price.  This is what it’s all about if you want to be a champion. The challenge of that moment.  Match point!”

To be a champion in sports or business or any phase of life, you have to learn to handle pressure.  If you’ve prepared mentally and physically, you don’t have to worry.

During my corporate speeches I repeat one of my favorite aphorisms: “Practice makes perfect … not true.  You have to add one word … Perfect practice makes perfect.”  I wish that I had coined that phrase but I didn’t.  Legendary pro football coach Vince Lombardi did.

This is why over my lifetime I’ve had numerous coaches to help me develop whatever natural talent I have.  I’ve had coaches for public speaking, writing, ideas/creativity, running marathons, golf, tennis, water skiing, swimming, bowling, basketball, to name only a few.  I’ve even had a dance coach … thanks to my wife.

Why do I have all of these coaches?  Because whatever my God-given talent is, whatever my God-given potential is … That’s it.  I can’t do any better.  But I will still try to do the best I can, with the best help I can get.

If I have a project, I’ll have a time and action calendar; get the best coaching I can find; and then try my hardest and focus and give it all I’ve got.

Should I feel pressure?  Yes, but I will use it to my advantage.  I’m as prepared as I can be.  I can’t do anymore.

Research shows that one of the key ways to deal with pressure is to have a feeling of control.  And what better way to be in control than to be prepared and experienced.

Take NASA as an example.  NASA puts all its astronauts through situations they might encounter in space.  Who can even begin to think about what might happen thousands of miles in space?  The moon is more than 238,000 miles away from earth!  Pressure? You better believe it.  But they are prepared.  If you are familiar with what is happening to and around you, you will have a powerful feeling of confidence.

Let’s face it.  No matter what, you are going to be in pressure situations.  No one is free from pressure.  It can’t be avoided.  Don’t panic.  Don’t lose your cool.  Concentrate.  Return to fundamentals.  Get your confidence back.

As simple as it sounds, try taking deep, relaxing breaths.  Pressure often causes people to breathe more quickly and shallow.  Deep breathing allows oxygen to more efficiently enter the blood and the brain, which will help you think more clearly.

Don’t stress over what you cannot control.  Everybody gets a curveball now and then.  Shake it off the best you can.  Be flexible and appreciate adversity.  It will help you grow stronger.

As Jacques Plante, a former professional hockey goalie for the Montreal Canadians once said, “How would you like it in your job if every time you made a small mistake, a red light went on over your desk and fifteen thousand people stood up and yelled at you?”

Try to relax.  Things could be worse.


Mackay’s Moral:  A diamond is a chunk of coal that made good under pressure.

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There’s great value in a good value system

One of the most interesting traits of any person is the value system by which he or she lives.  I wonder how many of us ever take the time to sit down and really think through the moral precepts that consciously or unconsciously guide our lives.

I stumbled across this personal creed of “Daily Dozen Values” by writer Robert Louis Stevenson (“Treasure Island”) many years ago, and I’ve always wanted to write about it because it is as true today as it was in 1875 or so when he wrote it.

  1. smileyfaceharveyMake up your mind to be happy.  Learn to find pleasure in simple things
  2. Make the best of your circumstances.  No one has everything, and everyone has something of sorrow intermingled with the gladness of life.  The trick is to make the laughter outweigh the tears.
  3. Don’t take yourself too seriously.  Don’t think that somehow you should be protected from misfortunes that befall others.
  4. You can’t please everybody.  Don’t let criticism worry you.
  5. Don’t let your neighbor set your standards.  Be yourself.
  6. Do the things you enjoy doing, but stay out of debt.
  7. Don’t borrow trouble.  Imaginary things are harder to bear than the actual ones.
  8. Since hate poisons the soul, do not cherish enmities and grudges.  Avoid people who make you unhappy.
  9. Have many interests.  If you can’t travel, read about new places.
  10. Don’t hold postmortems.  Don’t spend your life brooding over sorrows and mistakes.  Don’t be one who never gets over things.
  11. Do what you can for those less fortunate than yourself.
  12. Keep busy at something.  A very busy person never has time to be unhappy.

What a terrific list!  Can you imagine what the world would look like if we all followed such a code?

While I agree with all of Stevenson’s thoughts, I suspect we could all add a thing or two to fit our own needs.  And I would encourage you to take some time to do just that in the near future.  See if doing so doesn’t help you define your goals and dreams.

What is really important to you?  How do you want to conduct your life?  What are you willing to do – or not do – in order to have the life you want?  Is there a line you will not cross?

It is reasonable to expect that most adults would do their best to do the right thing.  And that has taken on a new importance in the world we live in, where our words and deeds are often subject to cameras and shared online for the world to see.  But having an established value system goes beyond that – it takes the guesswork out.  Because you have already thought about how you want to live, and be perceived, your responses and reactions can often be automatic.  You won’t even have to think about your actions.

A remarkable book by retired Navy SEAL Commander Mark Divine might provide the inspiration you need to organize your thoughts.  In “The Way of the SEAL,” Divine recalls his own experience defining his purpose at Officer Candidate School.

His own SEAL commander asked him what he stood for.  His answer, “justice, integrity and leadership,” was not enough for the commander, who pushed on:  “What are your rock-bottom beliefs, that stand beyond which you won’t be pushed?”

After some reflection, Divine wrote his personal stand:

  • “Destiny will favor me if I am prepared in mind, body, and spirit.
  • There’s no free lunch; I must work harder than expected and be more patient than others.
  • Leadership is a privilege, not a right, and I must earn it in the arena of action.
  • As a warrior, I will be the last to pick up my sword but will fight to protect myself, my family, my country, and my way of life.
  • I will strive to live in the present, resolve with the past, and create my ideal future.
  • I will find my peace and happiness through seeking truth, wisdom, and love, and not by chasing thrills, wealth, titles, or fame.
  • I will seek to improve myself, my team, and the world every day.”

So there you have it:  two shining examples of personal values that – even though separated by more than 100 years – still ring true.  I challenge you to take some time, and take a stand.


Mackay’s Moral:  If you live by a great value system, your life will have great value.

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A successful person is an average person, focused

I love golf – both playing and watching the pros – so you can imagine my delight when my wife Carol Ann surprised me for my birthday with a trip to watch the Ryder Cup in Glasgow, Scotland, in late September.  What a memorable experience, one that’s been on my bucket list for a long time.  The only thing that would have made it better would have been a USA team victory!

Along with the spectacular scenery and outstanding golf, the thing that struck me most was the focus of all the players.

It’s easy to have focus when everything is going well, but great athletes keep their focus when they are staring at defeat.  A sure way to fail is to lose focus.

rydercupI remember when my close friend Lou Holtz was asked to speak to the American team at the 2008 Ryder Cup by then-captain Paul Azinger.  Holtz told the players to remember the word WIN.  WIN stands for What’s Important Now?

Holtz told them to evaluate the past but focus on the future.  If you just made a bogey, what’s important now?  Your next tee shot.   If you make a birdie, what’s important now?  Your next tee shot.  You play one shot at a time and stay focused.

He finished by telling the players to enjoy the competition … enjoy what you are doing, but stay focused.  That team won, the last time the U.S. team brought home the Ryder Cup.

I watched Holtz do the same with all of his football teams at Minnesota, Notre Dame and South Carolina.  As Holtz said, think only about the next play or point, not what just happened.  You can only focus on what will happen next.  Don’t look back.  Don’t complain.  If you maintain your focus on the future, anything can happen.

Years ago when I played golf for the University of Minnesota, my coach, Les Bolstad, drove home the point about focus.  I remember practicing and getting ready for the NCAA Golf Championship Tournament at Purdue University.  Les told me to focus on each shot as if it was going to be my last.  I would say to myself, “This is the last drive I’m ever going to hit, so it better be good.  This is the last putt that I’m ever going to make, and so on.”

I’ve carried that philosophy through to my work life.  “This is the last speech I’m ever going to give, so it better be good.  This is the last book I’m ever going to write … This is the last acquisition I’m ever going to make …. ”

It takes that kind of focus to succeed.  I’m convinced that one of the top reasons that keeps people from getting what they want is lack of focus.  People who focus on what they want to achieve, prosper.  Those who don’t, struggle.

Forbes Magazine recently did a story on the nine habits of productive people.  One of them was on focus, specifically using your morning to focus on yourself.  The article stated that:

It’s a big productivity killer to start your mornings by checking your email and your calendar. This allows others to dictate what you accomplish.  Start your day out right by ignoring your emails and having a good breakfast, reading the news, meditating, or working out.  This will ensure you’ve got the necessary fuel for a productive day.

I couldn’t agree more.  I make my to-do list every morning by working backwards:  What do I need to accomplish by the end of the day?  By the end of the week?  The end of the month?  That tells me where to focus.

Is your work team focused on the right goals?  The Change Management website offers this simple test:  Ask everyone in your group what the organization’s mission is, how it affects their jobs, and how they contribute to it.

If a significant percentage can’t provide a persuasive answer, you need to either communicate your mission more consistently and effectively, or change it so people understand their roles better.  A business can’t succeed without a common focus.

A martial arts student approached his teacher with a question.  “I’d like to improve my knowledge of the martial arts.  In addition to learning from you, I’d like to study with another teacher in order to learn another style.  What do you think of this idea?”

The master answered, “The hunter who chases two rabbits catches neither one.”


Mackay’s Moral:  Stay focused on one thing.  Trying to get everything will get you nothing.

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Make a commitment to succeed

If you want to excel at anything in life you need to be committed.  If you only want to be good enough to get by, then a commitment to excellence is not necessary.  If you are committed to a cause, you don’t need to tell anyone.  They can tell from your actions.

I often wonder how people can be happy or at peace with themselves if they don’t make a commitment to something, whether it be succeeding at work or improving at a skill.  How do you reconcile expecting desired results without giving an honest effort to be the best you can be?

I know that if you go into any endeavor and say you will give it a try to see if it works, your half-hearted effort will probably fail.

Alan Page, NFL Hall of Fame defensive tackle and Minnesota Supreme Court justice, said:  “I grew up with the sense that if you’re going to do something in life, do your best.  When I was growing up, I didn’t know what I wanted to be, what I would do, but I do remember being told, ‘If you’re going to be a garbage man, be the best garbage man you can be.’  That stuck.  If it’s important to you and you want to be successful, there is only one person you can look at as being responsible for success or failure.  That’s you.”

harvey34Wanting something and actually making a commitment to getting it are two different things.  Your goals may be big and worthy, but do you have the passion to see them through? Success starts with a road map and a strategy, that’s just the beginning.  You must be prepared to seeing the action plan through – making a commitment to get to the finish line.

To determine whether you are honestly prepared to make a commitment, Rosabeth Moss Kanter of the Harvard Business School suggests testing yourself with these questions:

  • Do you feel strongly about the importance of your goal – why it’s necessary to achieve?
  • Does your idea match your values and beliefs?
  • Is this something you’ve dreamed about for a long time?
  • Is your goal vital to the future of people you care about?
  • Does your goal get you excited when you think about it and share it with others?
  • Is it realistic? Are you sincerely convinced that your goal can be achieved?
  • Are you willing to put your credibility on the line for it?
  • Can you make your goal the primary focus of your activities?
  • Are you willing to devote your personal time — evenings, weekends, vacations — to bring your goal to reality?
  • Will you be able to reject criticism and negativity?
  • Are you committed to the long term as you work toward your goal?

If you can answer yes to those questions, your chances for success improve dramatically.  It’s the difference between wanting and succeeding.

NBA star LeBron James, four-time league MVP, NBA champion and Olympic gold medalist, has made a commitment to playing his best and in being a good citizen both on and off the court.

James sums it up this way:  “Commitment is a big part of what I am and what I believe.  How committed are you to winning?  How committed are you to being a good friend?  To being trustworthy?  To being successful?  How committed are you to being a good father, a good teammate, a good role model?  There’s that moment every morning when you look in the mirror:  Are you committed, or are you not?”

If you still doubt the importance of commitment, consider this story.

At 6:50 p.m. as evening fell in Mexico City in 1968, John Stephen Akwari of Tanzania painfully hobbled into the Olympic stadium – the last man to finish the punishing marathon race.  The victory ceremony for the winning runner was long over and the stadium was almost empty as Akwari – his leg bloody and bandaged – struggled to circle the track to cross the finish line.

Watching from a distance was Bud Greenspan, a documentary filmmaker famous for his Olympic movies.  Intrigued, Greenspan walked over to the exhausted Akwari and asked why he had continued the grueling run to the finish line.

The young man from Tanzania did not have to search for an answer.  He said:  “My country did not send me 9,000 miles to start the race.  They sent me 9,000 miles to finish the race.”


Mackay’s Moral:  Commit or quit … it’s up to you.

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And the moral of the story is …

I’ve been writing this nationally syndicated column for 21 years now, and it seems that the Mackay’s Morals I create for each one really stick with the readers.  Every three years, I dedicate a whole column to some of my most memorable morals:

  • No one is as important as all of us.
  • Gratitude should be a continuous attitude.
  • Killing time isn’t murder, it’s suicide. 
  • Hidden talents don’t have to be huge, but the results can be.
  • Open a book … open your mind.
  • Life is a lot easier if you always play by the rules.
  • We all have to grow up, but we never have to get old.
  • Corporate integrity begins with personal integrity.
  • We is a little word that sends a big message.
  • People don’t care how much you know about them … once they realize how much you care about them.
  • The most successful managers aim at making themselves unnecessary to their staff.
  • Critical thinking is critical to success.
  • harveygraduationcap 1The only person who can put limits on your imagination is you.
  • It’s not enough to know what.  You must also know how.
  • Your mind is your most powerful ally in developing confidence.
  • If you go the extra mile, you will almost always beat the competition.
  • Doing the right thing is never the wrong thing to do.
  • There is one thing more contagious than enthusiasm, and that is the lack of enthusiasm.
  • A student of life considers the world a classroom.
  • People are judged by the company they keep.  Companies are judged by the people they keep.
  • If seeing is believing, visualizing is achieving.
  • Creativity, not necessity, is the true mother of invention.
  • They say a word to the wise is sufficient, but I say a word from the wise is a gift!
  • If you don’t climb the mountain, you can’t see the view.
  • There is no such thing as a final offer.
  • An old dog can learn new tricks, and a new dog can learn old tricks.
  • Failure is not falling down but staying down.
  • Customer service is not a department, it’s everyone’s job.
  • Saying you’re sorry and showing you’re sorry are not the same thing.
  • Exercise your brain so your memory doesn’t get flabby.
  • An ounce of commitment is worth pounds of promises.
  • Most people strive to be better off, but few strive to be better.
  • If you want to make your mark, sharpen your skills.
  • Everyone wants to win, but most people are not willing to prepare to win.
  • The fool asks the wise for advice, but the wise ask the experienced.
  • Pride is the stone over which many people stumble.
  • Control your life or it will control you.
  • The hardest part of the sale is selling yourself to your customer.
  • Entrepreneurship is living a few years of your life like most people won’t, so that you can spend the rest of your life like most people can’t.
  • To get what you’ve never had, you must do what you’ve never done.
  • You’ll never lose credibility if you share the credit.
  • Happiness can be thought, taught and caught – but not bought.
  • Failure isn’t final unless you say it is.
  • People aren’t strangers if you’ve already met them.  The trick is to meet them before you need their help.
  • We may not be able to predict the future, but we can prepare for it.
  • A plan isn’t a plan until you have a backup plan.
  • Taking your time can sometimes be the best use of your time.
  • If a business knows what’s good for it, it knows what’s good for a customer.
  • You can’t get ahead if you don’t get started.
  • Worrying casts a dark shadow that blocks any glimmer of hope.
  • The best way to sound like you know what you’re talking about is to know what you’re talking about.
  • Stay on your toes or fall flat on your face.
  • You’ll never reach your goal if you don’t have one.
  • Start every day/year with a healthy dose of vitamin C – Creativity.
  • Taking care of employees is taking care of business.
  • Lots of people start, but few people finish.


Mackay’s Moral: (one more time) The smarter I get, the more I realize I’m not finished learning.

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