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A man's guide to performing under pressure

How not to screw up, drop the ball, make a right hash of things, lose your cool, bottle it or fall flat on your face

A man's guide to performing under pressure
24 January 2018


Alex Gelsomino is a rally co-driver with the Monster Energy World Rally team. In his job, death looms around every corner

“Being a co-driver isn’t just about telling your driver to turn left or right. You have to know the track like the back of your hand – the distance between every obstacle.

“At 200kmph, both of your lives depend on getting it right. If you do go off the road, the best-case scenario is colliding with a tree. At worst, you’ll fly off a cliff.

“My worst crash was in Michigan five years ago. I was co-driving with Ken Block and we took a corner too wide and a wheel clipped the edge of the ditch, flipping us into the air. It planted a seed of fear that was hard to shake.

“But fear can be coached out of you. I saw a sports psychologist who made me exercise my mind to push away the negatives and focus solely on the positives.

“By pushing through the fear, I have demonstrated to my mind that I am capable of doing this job, creating a ripple effect of confidence. Now fear is no issue.”


Escape artist Jonathan Goodwin doesn’t just dice with death, he taunts and teases it on a daily basis

“I don’t like heights. Yet I’ve hung from my toes from helicopters, dangled from the outside of cable cars and held on to skyscrapers by my index fingers.

“Hanging from the side of the building was the worst. It was a 400ft drop. It was one of the few times that fear did creep in.

“With a straitjacket escape I’m upside down, doused in fuel and set alight. The fuel burns at 2,000C. Do it wrong, and my face will be on fire. I got through them via a technique called chunking – breaking a challenge down into pieces. I make a list of everything I have to accomplish, then I concentrate on checking it off.

“The key is focusing on each task – not by the overwhelming entirety of it. If you allow yourself to become overawed by the big picture, that’s when you’re going to make mistakes.”


One slip of Stephen Westaby’s scalpel and it’s game over. There’s no place for pressure in the operating room

“The Grim Reaper perches on every heart surgeon’s shoulder. You’re against the clock. When you put a patient on a heart-lung machine so you can operate, you’re stopping the heart and any blood flow. It means you’re on borrowed time – the longer the operation takes, the less likely the patient survives.

“Heart surgeons have particular personality types. They lack fear and are unfazed by the challenge. Previous operations, successful or not, wouldn’t enter my mind.

“For a standard operation, like replacing a heart valve, I’d be so relaxed that I’d stick on some music, chat and drink coffee with my team. For me, the high pressure of the day wasn’t saving people’s lives – it was finding a hospital car park space.”

Fragile Lives: A Heart Surgeon’s Stories Of Life And Death On The Operating Table is out now in paperback (HarperCollins)