Hendrie Weisinger Ph.D.

Thicken Your Skin

How Superman Handles Pressure

Do you crumble under pressure or are you like the Man of Steel

Posted Aug 13, 2015

Warner Bros.
Source: Warner Bros.

Every job comes with pressure but I think we’d all have to admit that the pressure on Superman to meet his responsibilities would have to be especially intense. Sure, he could always do the easy stuff—move 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. If he were around today, though, he might be under even more pressure to deliver results upholding truth, justice and the American way. Yet Superman would never shrink from the challenge. He would never let pressure sap his strength, as kryptonite would, or clog his memory, downgrade his performance, or force him into a relationship prematurely—all things that pressure routinely does to those of us born under a yellow sun.

How does he do it? Considering I’ve written a book called Performing Under Pressure and 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 the hero handles his daily moments of extraordinary pressure—situations in which he has something at stake and the outcome is dependent on his performance. (My Dad woke me up each morning with the next cliffhanger moment Superman would encounter. My job was to guess what the hero would do—a lot of pressure for a 10-year-old.)

The “twist,” as my father might call it, is that Superman uses some of the same solutions that the rest of us do, or should. And they work:

1. Visit the Fortress of Solitude

When the pressure gets heavy, Superman often retreats to his fortress of solitude, a place of solace in the deep Arctic. Unlike a vacation that helps us escape our pressures, Superman retreats to confront his. In the fortress, 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 this time to reflect upon the warmth his foster parents provided and the good times he had with his dog Krypto. 

When you're feeling the pressure, take time to clarify your own thoughts and feelings—you’ll free your thoughts from the distorted perceptions that we frequently let intensify our feelings of pressure, like, “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're at it, spend time reflecting on the good things in your life. When you leave your fortress of solitude, whether it be a quiet corner, cozy room, or peaceful park bench, you’ll feel less pressured.

2. Be vulnerable (without kryptonite).

Superheroes have feelings, too. And Superman feels less pressured when he shares his. He’s practiced this solution throughout his life. When he was a boy, he shared his feelings with his best friend, Pete Ross. Later he disclosed his concerns to his confidant, Batman, and other allies in the Justice League. (He once even confided in President Kennedy, reasoning, “If you can’t trust the President of The United States who can you trust?”) In all these instances, Superman shares his vulnerabilities so he can remain super.

You will also be better off if you have someone with whom you can share your feelings of distress or anxiety—that you feel like you are carrying the world upon your shoulders and are afraid you'll drop it. Like Superman, choose people you trust, 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 such feelings with your partner or trusted friend. I bet you started to feel more super.

3. Stay focused on the moment

Superman can’t help himself if he starts thinking about how to avoid marrying Lois when he’s battling Lex Luther or Brainiac. 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—such thoughts would take him off track as well. What he does think about is his goal—doing his best.

In your own pressure moments—giving a presentation to a potential client, entering a job interview, taking a test, or competing at a sporting event—you too cannot afford to lose focus by letting thoughts drift into worry about how you are doing, or what will happen if you perform poorly. (It will also do you no good if you consider how you'll enjoy the spoils of success before you've earned them.) To do your best, you need to stay in the moment, too, so you can focus on the task at hand.

It is also a super strategy to tune in to your senses. You don’t need x-ray vision to see your immediate surroundings or super-hearing to hear what's going on around you. Attending to what you immediately sense keeps you in the here and now—the place and time you need to perform.

4. Change identities

When Superman is feeling the heat, he finds it useful to change his identity 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 true responsibilities 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, you’d be smart to borrow 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 it 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 back, but you will do so feeling more balanced and less pressure.

Crown Books
Source: Crown Books

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

Visit me at http://hendrieweisingerphd.com and follow me @pressuretweets

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