Perform Well Under Pressure: 5 Key Lessons from Psyched Up

5 Key Lessons from Psyched Up by Daniel McGinn

What do you do when you need to perform at your best?

In situations like:

  • Job interviews
  • Performances
  • Sports games
  • Meetings or pitches
  • Public speaking

Out of the many hours that you work throughout the year, the success in your career will greatly depend on only a few of these hours. If those few critical moments go well, you can move up in your career and in your life. If those moments turn out horrible instead, well….

Let’s just focus on getting you Psyched Up for them!

The things you do before these kinds of events greatly determine how well you are going to perform. And so today I’ll bring you 5 lessons from Psyched Up by Daniel McGinn. As you may have guessed, this book is all about getting you in the right state of mind so that you can perform at your best.

How You Get Psyched Down

Unfortunately, most people do the opposite.

They sit down before an important event with little to no intent. And thus, their mind is going to run wild about everything that could go wrong, which is a terrible state of mind. And thus, people make themselves even more nervous than they already were beforehand. Leading them to perform worse than they would otherwise.

Sounds familiar?

If you recognize the above behavior, then you’re going to get great value from these 5 lessons from Psyched Up, which I think is an excellent book so if you like these lessons, be sure to get the entire book (or audiobook) on Amazon.

So what’s the issue?

Most people have no intent or routine before these moments. And as a result, they psyche themselves down so to speak. Because of the lack of a routine, they sit there with nothing to do except maybe checking your phone and thinking about what is coming, leading to the situation I described above.

If you could only have 1 takeaway from this book, let it be to get yourself into a pre-performance routine.

Takeaway 1: Have a Routine

Let’s dig into that one a bit deeper.

In order to prevent yourself from doing and thinking about just anything as I described above, you need to have a routine. It’s partially to get yourself psyched up, but the other part benefit of having a routine is distraction. You want to occupy your mind and possibly body so that you can fall back into the randomness of your thinking.

This lesson from Psyched Up is both great and impractical.

While I can tell you with certainty that you need to create a routine for yourself, I cannot tell you what that routine should be. The reason is that these are highly personal. And what gets me excited and in peak state, might not work for you at all.

It’s about trying different things to see what works for you.

It’s one of the reasons why I recommend buying Psyched Up.

In the book you will find way more examples, experiments and stories that you can use as inspiration to figure out what routine works for you. Obviously, I cannot give you all of the information in a single blog post, so if you’re interested, make sure to pick up Daniel McGinns’s book.

Here are some ideas to get you brainstorming:

  • Music
  • Mental Rehearsal
  • My 2-Minute Confidence Booster
  • Centering or short meditation
  • Some physical activity
  • Pretty much anything that helps you raise your energy and feel more confident

There’s an infinite number of things you can do.

Your pre-performance ritual doesn’t have to be related to the activity that you’re going to do. It just needs to feel well to you. So go and have some fun with this one!

Takeaway 2: Stop Trying to Calm Yourself Down!

It sounds counter-intuitive but bear with me.

My first takeaway from Psyched Up is that it is nearly impossible to stay completely calm in these kinds of situations. The stakes are high and failure can have pretty bad consequences and your mind knows this. It triggers a fight or flight response in your body. It is your natural response to be nervous or scared.

Trying to stay calm goes against every biological system and impulse you have.

Unless you have had years of mental training on this, you’re not gonna be able to calm yourself.

And it causes what Daniel likes to call a negative feedback loop.

You are getting more nervous, and so you tell yourself to stop being nervous. Of course, you can’t because nervousness is the logical state to be in. The change of going from nervous to calm is simply way too big. And now, since you tell yourself to be calm but can’t, you’re getting even more stressed because of it.

Stressed South Park GIF - Find & Share on GIPHY

So if trying to calm yourself doesn’t work, what should you do instead?

You should definitely be making a shift in your emotions, just not to calm.


The problem with trying to calm yourself is that the gap is too big. Excitement however is only a small shift, making it way more doable for pretty much everyone. While nervousness is a pretty negative state to be in, excitement is a positive one, so you’re going into the situation a lot better.

In short:

Instead of thinking of how scared you are, think about how lucky you are to even be in this position. Use that kind of vocabulary, but when talking about it to others as well as when you’re talking to yourself in your own head. Only positive excitement allowed!

Do that and you’ll be performing way better.

Experiments have been done multiple times that show that people who talk about being nervous before a task score significantly worse than those who talk about being excited. So this 1 little shift can actually make a huge difference in your performance.

Takeaway 3: Superstitions Actually Work!

Of all my learned lessons from Psyched Up, this was probably the most surprising one.

What comes to mind when you hear superstition?

Personally, I think they are bogus and don’t do anything at all. And factually, that is the case. There is no magic 8 ball that will give you superpowers. There is no item that will bring you good luck just by touching it or having it in your pocket.

Such items don’t exist!

Or do they?

One example that stood out to me was done with golfers who were tested on how well they could put. One of the groups was given a golf club to play with and was told that this club previously belonged to a famous golfer. The other group got the exact same golf club, but they didn’t get the backstory, they were just told to take the shot.

And guess what?

The first group performed 33% better than the second group!

So, what is the key to superstitions?

I’m a Disney fan myself and so the movie Dumbo comes to mind.

Baby Animals Smile GIF by Disney - Find & Share on GIPHY

In case your Disney movie knowledge is a bit dusty: Dumbo was trying to learn how to fly, supported by Timmie the mouse. However, he just couldn’t do it and got too scared after trying and failing a few times.

Until he got this “magic feather” from Timmy.

Of course, this was simply an ordinary crow (I believe) feather. There was nothing remotely magical about it, but it gave Dumbo confidence.

And that’s the thing about superstitions.

There is nothing remotely magical about a ritual or item that you use. However, if doing that thing gives you more confidence or gets you in the right state of mind, then it does work! It’s not the item, it’s you! And so that’s how you can make superstitions actually work for you.

Takeaway 4: Trash Talking

It may not be for you, but I love me some fine trash talking!

To me, since I’m a pretty competitive person, there is excitement in talking trash to an opponent. Throwing down the gauntlet and challenging someone else work well in motivating myself. It doesn’t have to be like that for you of course, but it’s an interesting way of getting psyched up for multiple reasons.

Just note:

Of course, it will depend highly on the situation. In sports and other competitive settings, trash talk is pretty common. But if you’re in a professional business situation, sales pitch or job interview, then trash talking is probably not your best option. Even when you know it can be a great motivator for you.

So, let’s talk trash:

The first benefit can be distracting or disrupting your opponent if you are going up against someone else. Note that you don’t necessarily have to say anything, but a certain look or gesture can sometimes be enough to rattle someone. It can give you a shot of excitement when you notice an effect on your opponent.

Shifting to business:

Rivalry is a good thing when done right. You can think about having public leaderboards for a sales team or by turning certain tasks into competitions (either with or without prizes). You need to consider your company’s culture of course and not everyone will like it, but it has been proven to be effective.

It also works great for motivating others:

In his book Psyched Up, Daniel talks about the CEO of T-Mobile, who loves to talk trash about the competition.

It works in keeping himself motivated, but it also has an effect on the people in stores. When they see their CEO talk shit about the competition, it gives them a greater purpose and an enemy to fight against. They’re not just selling phones and subscriptions, they are making sure these customers don’t fall into the hands of AT&T!

And there’s another kind of trash talk as well.

One not directed at anyone.

For me, an enemy that I fight against is “playing the victim”. People who blame other people, circumstances, luck or anything else for their situation. Well no, fuck that! You are where you are right now in life because of your choices and actions. Yes, setbacks happen, but you are always in control of your response and how you get out of a situation.

If anyone has done what you want to achieve, it’s more than possible for you as well.

It’s about taking responsibility.

That’s a message that I need to get out to more people, because thinking that things happen to them instead of making things happen is something that kills millions of dreams and leads to a ton of unhappiness. And so fighting this enemy is a huge motivator for me.

Takeaway 5: Boost Your Confidence

This is a no-brainer.

Everyone knows that you’re going to be doing better at pretty much every kind of task when you are feeling confident. Additionally, it doesn’t just affect your performance, but it also makes a huge difference in how people perceive you. So before you go into any situation where you think you’ll need it, you need to boost your confidence.

There are different ways of doing this, but I’d like to share a particular one with you here.

It’s a combination of mental rehearsal and affirmations.

Before any event, perhaps in the car during your drive, take a moment to breathe and then think about the event. And you’re going to vividly imagine how amazing it is going to go. Imagine yourself there performing to the best of your abilities, get that image clearly in your mind and keep it there.

On one hand, it’s a way to practice once more in your head.

However, the more important part is that you prime yourself to do well.

There’s a famous research with basketball players. They measured players’ abilities to make their shots and divided them into three groups. The first group went home and wasn’t allowed to practice. The second group got daily practice. And the third group was sent home as well, but they had to practice making the shots in their head every day for at least an hour.

The results?

Obviously, the first group performed worse.

The interesting part is with the other two groups. Those who practiced have indeed gotten better at it, but that’s not really a surprise. What might surprise you is that the group who practiced only in their minds actually improved more than the ones who got the physical practice.

Mental rehearsal is a powerful tool!

Your unconscious is having a hard time differentiating between what is real and what is vividly imagined. Many people only psyche themselves out by thinking of worst-case scenarios. Instead, use it to psyche yourself up instead!

My Thoughts About Psyched Up by Daniel McGinn

And these are my 5 lessons from Psyched Up.

Of course, there is way more to it than just this, but these 5 things will help you in creating a pre-performance routine that gets you excited and in a peak state whenever you need it most! There were some things I was already doing, but there are definitely some great pieces of advice that I will be incorporating in my own routine.

Definitely give this book a go!

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