Mental coach of 3 top NBA draft picks shares 7 ways you can thrive under pressure

Graham Betchart has worked with Ben Simmons (pictured) of the Philadelphia 76ers as part of his work as a mental coach to top NBA players.
Mitchell Leff | Getty Images

Do you ever wonder how a basketball player can stand at the free throw line with the game in his hands in front of 30 million viewers and casually sink a shot? How about when a surgeon is in the middle of a procedure and the patient starts to bleed profusely, or when a lawyer has to convince a jury that her innocent client isn't guilty of murder? How do they keep their heads?

Graham Betchart, the director of mental training at Lucid Performance, prepares people for these exact moments.

After receiving his master's degree in sports psychology from John F. Kennedy University in 2008, he began developing basketball stars like the Philadelphia 76ers' 6'10'' point guard Ben Simmons, the Minnesota Timberwolves' center Karl-Anthony Towns and the Orlando Magic's power forward Aaron Gordon. Gordon has worked with Betchart since he was 14.

But now both Graham and Lucid Performance are pivoting beyond sports. The company that found success with a mental training app — which now has 50,000 downloads on iTunes — for kids who dream of becoming pro basketball players, is currently planning for an internal trial at Google and will be running a workshop at Facebook to train employees in mental strength.

Betchart has already begun working with sales teams, health professionals, universities and lawyers. "What we've found is this is much larger than sports," Betchart tells CNBC. "This is about everyone in life."

Here are seven ways you can thrive under pressure, according to his advice:

Lucid Performance CEO Jason Stirman, Skal Labissière of the Sacramento Kings, and Lucid Performance Director of Mental Training Graham Betchart (from left to right)
Graham Betchart

1. Let go of the obsession with results

Fearful leaders are always thinking about their teams' results, says Betchart. "They are the ones that are living way in the future." And projecting into the future creates stress, which he calls "the absence of presence."

A salesperson will not function well if his focus is entirely on numbers, just like a surgeon will fail if he thinks only about the result of the surgery. If something unexpected goes wrong, according to Betchart, some surgeons will immediately think, "I'm going to lose my job if this happens. I'm going to get sued for malpractice. I don't know how to talk to the parents."

What they need to focus on, says Betchart, is resolving the issue. "Stop the bleeding," he tells CNBC.

2. Get comfortable being uncomfortable

"If you refuse to be uncomfortable, you are literally limiting your ability to grow," says Betchart, citing Stanford psychologist Carol Dweck's research on the "growth mindset." As opposed to the "fixed mindset," having the "growth mindset" means embracing a dynamic outlook, believing that trials and challenges will push you to new limits and that failures are opportunities to develop.

"Be a learn it all, not a know it all," says Betchart. "Tell yourself, 'I want to keep growing, keep learning, and what I know now might be different in ten years.'"

"And know that you are okay," he says. Repeatedly tell yourself, "I am okay." According to Betchart, it sounds easy, but achieving that understanding is actually quite profound.

Rich people use these 6 mental tricks to make more money
Rich people use these 6 mental tricks to make more money

3. If you are the boss, make mistakes and share them with your employees

"Perfectionists perish," says Betchart repeatedly. In other words, striving for perfection will ultimately hold you back, because perfection is impossible.

"There's nothing worse for a team than someone afraid to make a mistake," he says. And when you work to intentionally avoid mistakes, "it completely limits your creativity."

Because mistakes inevitably occur, you should instead focus on developing grit and resiliency. Those qualities, Betchart says, allow you to move forward.

"We've found that when a leader, a person in charge, is able to be vulnerable and say, 'I'm human just like you, and I make mistakes' … it empowers the group," he says. "People really resonate when they can connect."

4. Be emotionally intelligent

Two qualities of the best leaders are empathy and compassion, he says. "If you can empathize with the people you are working with," explains Betchart, "and have compassion for what they are going through, it's amazing what it brings out of them."

Performance expert George Mumford, who has worked with Betchart in the past, originally introduced this idea to the NBA in the 90s through Phil Jackson, former coach of the Chicago Bulls.

"Mumford taught Michael Jordan compassion," Betchart says. The Pistons players would foul him and bump him to throw him off his game, and at first, it worked.

But when Jordan learned to take a breath, Betchart says, "instead of getting angry at the Pistons, he would let it go and think to himself, 'Hey, empathize with them. This is the only way you can try to beat me. You're not as good at basketball as me.' And that allowed him to not lose all his energy."

Michael Jordan, as well as Kobe Bryant and Shaquille O'Neal, all credit Mumford's training for their success.

Graham Betchart with the Boston Celtics' Jaylen Brown
Source: Graham Betchart

5. Be in thriving mode, not survival mode

"If you have a lion in your room right now," he says, "I would say you need to be in survival mode. Get the hell out of that room. You're in physical danger."

Too often people Betchart sees are in survival mode, exaggerating the stakes of the task at hand as though their lives depend on the outcome. They expend energy wastefully, he says.

"In a company where people are in survival mode," says Betchart, "people don't thrive."

6. Understand energy is contagious

"You can feel it," he says. "You can feel someone who's fearful. You don't have to say a word." When workplace culture is high-stress and heavily results-driven, people are fearful, and that energy transfers to everyone.

On the other hand, Betchart says, "If people are mindful, if they have a highly trained mind," they can put a stop to the spread of that negative atmosphere. Their composure will influence those around them.

7. Allow yourself to be vulnerable

"If you allow yourself to be vulnerable," he says, "you have a great chance of winning. If you refuse to be vulnerable, you are handcuffing yourself."

"When leaders have a willingness to be vulnerable … it's the most empowering thing ever." There's a ripple effect. The most innovative companies, he says, have leaders and employees who are open and honest, who allow themselves to be vulnerable. "They have an open mind."

"Getting into the now is sometimes extremely uncomfortable," he adds. But that's all the more reason to do it.

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