How Superman Handles Pressure

businessman-as-Superman-Hendrie WeisingerEvery job comes with pressure, but I think we’d all have to admit that the pressure on Superman to meet his job responsibilities must be super-intense. After all, he’s no Trump.

Sure, Superman can do the easy stuff – perform faster than a speeding bullet, leap tall buildings in a single bound, bend steel in his bare hands and change the course of mighty rivers. Today though, like us mortals, he’s under a lot more pressure to get results. You can only imagine how much pressure Superman feels these days to perform his never-ending job of upholding truth, justice and the American way. That’s hard enough to do in corporate America, let alone globally.  Just the thought of having to do so probably causes him more anxiety than marrying Lois Lane.

Yet, even a lover of Spiderman would admit that Superman does not shrink from the challenge.  Unlike any type of Kryptonite, Superman does not let pressure sap his strength, clog his memory, downgrade his performance or force him into a relationship prematurely – that’s what pressure usually does to those born under a yellow sun. Regardless of the pressure, Superman goes about his job, and for over 50 years, managing pressure has allowed him to do his job well.

How does he do it? Considering I’ve written a book titled Performing Under Pressure and the fact that my father, Mort Weisinger, was the executive story editor of Superman comics for 30 years, I think I’m more than qualified to tell you how Superman handles the daily pressures he is under and the pressure moments he encounters – situations in which he has something at stake and the outcome is dependent on his performance.  After all, my dad woke me up each morning with the next pressure moment Superman would encounter. My job was to guess how he would perform his task. Those who know of my father’s wit and style know that was a lot of pressure on a ten-year-old.

The “twist,” as he would say, is that Superman uses some of the same pressure solutions that mortal men use. Here they are in Superman terms: 

Visits the Fortress of Solitude. When the pressure gets hot and heavy, Superman often retreats to his Fortress of Solitude, a place of solace in the deep Arctic. Unlike a vacation that often helps us escape our pressures, Superman retreats to confront his pressures. Here, with no intrusions on his time, he becomes mindful of his thoughts and feelings and in so doing, makes revelations that guide him to a productive course of action. He also uses his fortress time to reflect upon the warmth his foster parents provided and the good times he had with his dog Krypto.

Take time to clarify your thoughts and feelings – you’ll free your thoughts from distorted perceptions that we frequently make that intensify our feelings of pressure –“I’ll never get another chance. This is the most important presentation I will ever give.  If I fail, my career is over.”

While you are at it, spend time to reflect upon the good things in your life. When you leave your own Fortress of Solitude, preferably not in the Arctic but a quiet corner, cozy room, or peaceful park bench, you’ll feel less pressured. 

Be Vulnerable without Kryptonite. Real super heroes have feelings too, and Superman, like mortal men, feels less pressured when he shares his. He’s practiced this pressure solution throughout his life. When he was a boy, he shared his feelings with his best friend, Pete Ross.   Now he discloses his concerns to his confidant Batman and occasionally other members of the Justice League. He even shared his feelings with President JFK, proclaiming, “If you can’t trust the President of the United States who can you trust?” In all these instances, Superman shared his vulnerabilities so he could remain super.

You too will be better off if you share your feelings of distress, anxiety or that you are carrying the world upon your shoulders and are afraid you will drop it. Like Superman, choose people who you trust. These are the people who will validate your feelings, make sure you keep things in perspective, and if necessary, help you problem solve. Think of the last time you shared your distressed feelings with your partner or trusted friend and I bet you started to feel super.

Truth, Justice & the American Way. Superman doesn’t help himself if he starts thinking how to avoid marrying Lois when he’s battling Lex Luther or Brain. He can’t afford to have “worry thoughts” that distract his attention and cause him to error when he needs to be at his best.  Nor does he need to become overly self-conscious about whether or not he is using his x-ray vision correctly – these thoughts would take him off track too. What he does think about is his goal – doing his best.  He knows that by doing his best, chances are he will uphold trust, justice, and the American Way.

In a pressure moment – giving a presentation to a potential client, a job interview, taking a test, or competing in a sporting event, you too cannot afford to lose your focus by letting your thoughts drift into worrying about how you are doing, or what will help if you perform poorly. It will also do you no good if you enjoy your incentives before you earned them. To do your best, you need to stay in the moment so you can focus on your task at hand. Be like Superman and focus on doing your best – that will keep you in the moment.

It is also a super strategy to tune in to your senses. You don’t need x-ray vision to see your immediate surroundings, super-hearing to hear your surroundings, super smell to sniff your surroundings, or super breath to inhale the air that surrounds you. Attending to what you immediately sense keeps you in the “hear and now” – the place and time you need to perform. 

Change Identities. When Superman is feeling the pressure of his job, he often finds it useful to change his identify to one that is less pressured. After all, Clark Kent is just a mild-mannered reporter who only has to put up with a demanding Perry White and an irrationally exuberant Jimmy Olsen. Being Clark, if only for a few hours a day, gives Superman some time to detach from his job, and relate and enjoy his friends at the Planet instead of having to save them. Being Clark Kent adds balance to Superman’s life.

After a pressure packed day at work, you’d be smart to take a page from Superman and change into another identity – partner, parent, friend, or athlete. Make your change full-heartedly so you forget your work identity and enjoy your identity of the moment. Like Clark does for Superman, your other identity will remind you that your self-worth is not dependent on your job, that you have much to enjoy and that you have purpose that goes far beyond doing a good job. Sooner or later you will have to change into your work identity, but you will do so feeling more balanced and less pressure.

Build these pressure solutions into your daily activities and you will feel like a Superman despite the pressures or Kryptonite in your life.

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Hendrie Weisinger

Hendrie Weisinger

Hendrie Weisinger, Ph.D. is a celebrated and influential psychologist, pioneer in the field of pressure management, the originator of criticism training and the author of two New York Times bestselling books. He has consulted with and developed programs for dozens of Fortune 500 Companies and government agencies and has taught in Executive Education and Executive MBA programs at Wharton, UCLA, NYU, Cornell, Penn State, and MIT. His work has been featured several times in The New York Times Sunday Business Section, and numerous popular magazines. His article for The Wall Street Journal, So You’re Afraid To Criticize Your Boss, was selected as one of their 60 best management articles and reprinted in Dow Jones on Management. He has appeared on more than 500 radio and television shows including Oprah, Good Morning America, Charlie Rose, and was the featured expert for 5 consecutive days on The Today Show for their anger management special. His newest book and NY Times Bestseller is Performing Under Pressure: The Science of Doing Your Best When It Matters Most You can learn more about Dr. Weisinger and his new empowering E Workshop Experience, Performing Under Pressure at hendrieweisingerphd.com

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