From CEOs to firefighters to fighter-jet pilots, the ability to stay calm in a difficult situation can mean the difference between success and failure. Research has shown that the mind works best when it is in a moderate state of arousal (not too stressed, but not too calm either). So how do successful people stay cool under pressure?

1. They remain positive. 

Having a negative attitude about the challenges you face is a great way to snowball into feeling overwhelmed. Look at obstacles as opportunities to learn and tough assignments as chances to show the world (and especially your boss) what you are made of. Be confident in your ability to slay whatever dragon lies ahead.

2. They avoid caffeine.

The last thing you need when you have a lot on your plate is too much caffeine in your system. Caffeine will only further stimulate the areas of your brain that are causing you to feel overwhelmed in the first place. Opt for water instead.

Pascal Lego

Pascal via flickr

3. They make jokes.

If you ever find yourself on a deck of an aircraft carrier, you are likely to hear pilots ripping on each other and joking around about the imminent danger they face on a daily basis. It isn’t that they don’t feel fear; it is that they manage it through humor. Laughter releases hormones that calm you down and allow you to be in control.

4. They identify the stressor. 

Zeroing in on what exactly is making you feel stressed out is the first step in overcoming those feelings. Being able to identify the enemy allows you to figure out what its weaknesses are and which of your strengths are most likely to be useful in any given situation. Just like with a child who is afraid of the dark, things are never as scary when you fully understand them.

5. They decompress.

Taking time to step back from a situation and relax can help you reorient your thoughts and view things more clearly. Take a walk, read a book, or watch a movie. Just do something to take your mind off the situation that is getting you worked up. You will be much more effective at problem solving once you have taken time to rejuvenate your mind.

6. They reframe the situation. 

Once you have taken the time to decompress, you may have a completely different perspective on a difficult situation. Embrace new ways of thinking and view problems from all sides. You may realize you were, in fact, trying to climb up the mountain’s sheer cliff face rather than the smoothly winding trail on the opposite side.

Nomadic Lass planning

Nomadic Lass via flickr

7. They make a plan.

Once you fully understand what you are up against, you can develop a step by step plan to get you to your goal. One tactic successful people use is back-casting, where they think about the final objective they are working towards and identify each step they need to reach on the way to achieving it. From there it is easy to determine when each step needs to be completed to stay on track. Nothing helps you stay calm like a clear plan of attack.

8. They get some sleep.

Just because you have deadlines to meet and people to impress doesn’t mean that you can sacrifice sleep to get there. Not only will losing sleep damage your health, it will make you generally less effective. A tired mind is one that is not able to think clearly and it is hard to stay calm when you are living in a mental fog. We can only learn and adapt when we are rested.

9. They ask for help.

Being afraid to ask for help is a sure-fire way to feel overwhelmed. Feeling overwhelmed is bad enough without making yourself feel alone as well. Take advantage of the people in your network who have skills and knowledge that you don’t. More often than not, people are happy to help in any way they can. Feeling like someone has your back is a great way to stay calm.

oatsy40 relax

oatsy40 via flickr

10. They mentally prepare.

Before projects even begin, successful people train their brains to stay calm when the pressure is on. It comes naturally with experience, but you can consciously work at it too. Play games that encourage mental flexibility under a time limit. The Internet is full of puzzles and games that can help keep your brain in tip-top shape and ready for the next challenge.

Featured photo credit: Maria Ly via flickr.com

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