Francesco Molinari just did what no other Italian countrymen (or woman) has done before--won a major championship in golf. Faced with critical shot after critical shot, knee-buckling putt after knee-buckling putt, Molinari was far more robotic than human, powering his way through intense pressure like a knife through butter.
How did he succeed in such a high stakes environment when so many predecessors fell short? My first instinct after seeing Molinari in action was that this machine of a man must be golf's version of a gym rat, putting in herculean hours on practice rounds. Turns out I was only half right.
Molinari won such a pressure cooker not because of how much he practiced, but because of how he practiced. The Italian champion was a golf pro who had seen some success but struggled to even make the cut at major tournaments. That is until he hired performance coach Dave Alred, author of The Pressure Principle.
Alred forced Molinari to up the stakes to his practice routine and add pressure to the way he practiced. Alred's methods echo what's known in cognitive psychology as desirable difficulty--introducing challenge to the process of learning to dramatically increase the performance when it's "showtime."
Introducing difficulty can be frustrating and supremely annoying, as Molinari soon found out. The golfer's first session with his new performance coach at Riviera Country Club in Los Angeles required him to hit a series of difficult flop shots from a downhill lie. Instead of mindlessly hitting practice shots, Alred asked his pupil to keep hitting until he landed five shots within three feet of the hole.
It took Molinari 48 tries.
And so it goes in practice with Alred--you keep going until you pass each of his pressure-filled tests. As Alred told the Wall Street Journal, "Do you want to be comfortable, or do you want to be ready? They're not necessarily the same."
It's this philosophy that has had Molinari as cool as a cucumber in the highest pressure environments of late. In his three wins this year, he's only made one bogey in six combined weekend rounds. Even while playing in the final round of the British Open, alongside none other than Tiger Woods, he was the only player in the field without a single bogey. As Molinari reportedly put it:
"I felt ready for it. Calm--you know, as calm as you can be playing in the last round of a major close to the lead, playing with Tiger. I mean, there was everything to make someone nervous, but I focused on my process."
Applying this principle to your life
You can thrive under pressure too if you're willing to add pressure and some discomfort to your practice routine. Being familiar with performing under stress makes you more comfortable and allows you to "focus on the process" like Molinari does rather than freaking out about the reality of what's at stake in the moment.
Get that side hustle up and running before you quit your day job. Experience what it's like to deliver in front of a client to build your preparedness and confidence. If you've got a huge pitch meeting coming up, practice that pitch with a venture capitalist you know.
If you've got a high stakes presentation at work, practice it front of a few different groups of willing coworkers first. If you have got a big written test coming up, do practice problems in a timed setting.
You get the idea. While repetition is great, "real-petition" is better. Rehearsing in front of your dog in your pajamas over and over only gets you so far.
So get the benefit of familiarity in high-pressure situations by forcing yourself to practice under pressure. You might not win the British Cup--but you'll score.