Pressure brings the best out of people, or it can bring the worst out. It’s just how you use it – Clint Dempsey.
Small But Mighty
Have you heard of the Mariana Trench? Located in the Pacific Ocean, it is the deepest section of the ocean on earth at 7 miles below the surface of the Pacific. Putting it in proper perspective, if Mt. Everest were placed in the Pacific Ocean where the trench is located, there would still be about a space of one mile between its peak and the ocean’s surface. While many people have scaled Everest, only two people have descended to the Trench. Why? According to the University of Washington, pressure at this depth is comparable to an elephant sitting on your thumb. Think about that!
Understandably, aquatic life is almost non-existent in the Mariana Trench. Except for the Mariana snail fish. One of the men who reached the Trench’s depth exclaimed with excitement upon discovery of life in the Trench; “Could life exist in the greatest depth of the ocean? It could!”
Is it Possible?
How are fish that are bigger and more dangerous, unable to live at such depths, yet these small creatures, about a foot in length, don’t fold under such immense pressure? They thrive! Though small on the outside these fish are mighty on the inside. First, the snail fish possess flexible skulls and bones that appear to be transparent on the outside. Secondly, they produce chemicals that provide stability under what appears to be harsh conditions.
Using the imagery of the Mariana snail fish and their ability to thrive in extreme pressure, we can extract two factors to employ so we don’t fold under the pressures of life.
Without transparency, we can get tangled in the jungle of suffocating thoughts pressurized by worry, fear, and anxiety. Like a pressure relief valve placed in a system to release pressure build-up, we all need safe places or people to be transparent with. Such safe relationships can succor us when the pressure has us on the ropes. Do you have people in your life you can be fully open with? I believe that most people are crushed under the weight of pressure, either because they have no one to be transparent with or they choose to hold it in, and eventually, it comes out in destructive ways that interfere with our intention to be our best.
In astronomy, destructive interference occurs when a positive wave is displaced by a negative one, producing a dark region called destructive wave interference. Where transparency is absent, the darkness of destructive interference from pressure occurs in our lives as pressure overtakes progress resulting in stagnancy. On the other hand, constructive interference occurs when a new and bigger wave is produced from two waves. Transparency aligns pressure and progress to form an enormous wave called productivity in our lives. When we share the pressures we are dealing with, and there are many, its adverse effects are dispersed. Our minds stop marinating in the pressure and challenges which have debilitating effects on our thinking. Instead, our mental faculties are freed to bring our best thinking to the table. Transparency helps unlock the mental logjam created by pressure. According to neurologists, “prolonged pressure or stress, meddles with the brain’s wiring ultimately impairing cognitive function.” I also believe that through transparency we develop more excellent internal stability, which like the Mariana snail fish, is crucial under pressure.
The chemicals the Mariana snail fish produce give them stability in an environment where the pressure may seem to have the last word. This unique ability of these little but mighty creatures teaches us that our internal makeup is crucial in the times we are living. Living under external pressures can turn us into mental and emotional ping pongs. We jump from one extreme of thought or emotion to another. How do we maintain internal stability and avoid fraying?
I believe the words we speak to ourselves are crucial to staying internally stable. Pressure has a way of creating self-sabotage. As our heart rate is elevated due to the strain from the pressure, negative self-talk can induce internal combustion. I have become a student of my own words. I track my speech in high-pressure situations and watch what I am inviting into the topography of my mind. Are my words in this situation colliding with my faith, values, and beliefs? What words can I adopt to stop the collision and instead develop coordination? This is what Horatio Spafford did.
In 1871, a ship carrying his wife and daughters collided with another ship and sank. His wife survived. She sent a telegram with the message, Saved alone, What shall I do, to Spafford, who did not make the trip as he was detained by business. Spafford, a Christian, left immediately to bring his wife home. As he passed by the place where his daughters perished, he penned these words that have become one of the most powerful hymns reminding us that synchronizing our words with our faith, values and beliefs amidst the challenges and pressures of life can keep us from sinking:
When peace like a river, attendeth my way, when sorrow like sea billows roll
Whatever my lot, thou hast taught me to say, It is well, it is well with my soul
It is well, it is well, with my soul, it is well, it is well, with my soul.
Final Thought: It is evident we are living in unprecedented times filled with unrivaled tension. The pressure only seems to increase as we foray into the future. From the snail fish, we can conclude that size is never a metric for success in high-pressure situations. Our level of transparency and internal stability helps us thrive under pressure and come out shining like a diamond, which according to Henry Kissinger, “is a chunk of coal that did really well under pressure.”
Keep on keeping on!