Kirsten Peterson – The psychology of performance in business

Interview with
Kirsten Peterson
Kirsten Peterson – The psychology of performance in business

Kirsten Peterson, Performance Psychologist PhD

 When you’ve got the ‘yips’ you know you’re in the zone for some remedial work. The cause is often performance anxiety - relatable not just in the sporting arena (which is where the term originated), but to any walk of life.

Our guest today, Kirsten Peterson describes her experience as she rose then fell from excelling in sport to becoming the brains behind the yips. She now teaches people how to replace performance anxiety with optimal performance in any situation.

And as an entrepreneur facing the ever-challenging gambit of business ownership, don’t you think it would help to understand the psychology of performance, to train your brain to thrive under pressure? Because you can’t crumple – the stakes are too high; you need to keep your grit and stay on your mettle to carry on.

Why is then that many of us are hellbent on inadvertently trampling all over the operating systems that nurture the endurance necessary to make fulfilment a natural way of life? Kirsten says it’s because we just don’t know any better, we haven’t trained our brain to understand, and that cracking the code of how the brain works is the best way forward. 

She believes taking a gentle, yet disciplined approach is the best strategy to manifesting optimal performance. You’ll enjoy the journey and you’ll certainly benefit from its stable of positive outcomes.

The journey that Covid took us on was one out of the box, however.

“The human body has not evolved to manage uncertainty at all well. We crave security, constancy and being able to gauge the future and scan for threat. When we can’t do that our wheels spin out of control!”

Kirsten Peterson

[Pessimists take note: we have you to thank for our evolutionary path! The happy optimists blew it by being too cocky. Pessimists learnt from mistakes, ran from threat, and survived to create our human gene pool of today – well done and cheers.]

Kirsten teaches coping strategies that enable us to think of uncertainty like a boat trip through fog. It’s impossible to see the way, so the best tactic is to train your brain to accept that for right now, the situation is what it is. Look ahead as far as you can see then break it down and make that part of your journey as manageable and safe as you can within your power.

Chew over this Serenity Prayer (even if you’re not the theological type):

God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change,

courage to change the things I can,

and wisdom to know the difference.

Ask these questions: What CAN I do? Anything or NOTHING? Am I doing the best with what I have right here, right now? Do I have enough to hold/support me, but also challenge me? Who do I have around me that I’m resonating with? Do I have the courage to push myself out of my comfort zone? Do I have the wisdom to stop being hyper-vigilant?

“What’s better: watching the news and having the emotional life sucked out of you, or delving into a market and connecting with customers and finding out what they need and delivering on that?”

Kirsten Peterson

Seems logical to avoid gnashing your teeth over situations you have no control over, but the courage to step away and titrate (measure and adjust) negativity is actually a skill. It’s too easy to get sucked into stress, and so hard to perform well while there, yet as business owners, we need to know how to perform under pressure and anxiety.

The most effective antidote to anxiety is getting exposure to the things we are afraid of in our performing lives, in effect, practising pain! Batting above average when the pressure’s on means accepting the feeling of discomfort that process brings.

In fact, getting comfortable about being uncomfortable is the best practice you can have for coping, and even thriving when the chips are down. It creates a fit brain - and training your brain to deal with stress bridges the gap between barely managing a difficult situation, to handling it with aplomb (i.e. performing to your optimal potential.)

But how do you get to feel at ease about feeling uneasy? If traditional theology’s not your bent, then how about embracing ‘contemplative practice’? You can meditate or download the ‘no b.s’  ‘10% Happier Meditation for Fidgety Sceptics’ app that helps you train your mind into being:

  • Non-judgemental of our negative experiences
  • Non-reactive when the s..t hits the fan
  • Equanimous not angry
  • Accepting of your reality
  • Knowledgeable about what’s important
  • Clear on focus
  • Clear on decision making
  • Strong on resilience
  • Sensible about following healthy habits.

Even if you don’t believe in meditation, do it anyway. If it’s a step too far into kooky land, then simply connect with others. All business owners go through the same issues; staff, clients, suppliers, finances, sales, marketing, all mixed up with a personal life, and the going can get tough. So have a coffee or a chat - “we are wired for connection and universality” – and you'll realise that you're not the only one feeling uniquely crazy.

But also stop and smell the roses for a minute or two (maybe as part of your contemplative practice), be lighter “stop taking yourself so frickin’ seriously – go play, eat a cookie or take a nap!” or just be present – as Covid 19 insisted we do. 

Because while we waste time planning, anticipating, being hyper-vigilant, ruminating, de-briefing, fantasising and making ourselves miserable about a future that hasn’t even been written yet, we are not in the present moment. Research has proven that when we are, we are happy.

If you would like to learn more, reach out to Kirsten via her Twitter handle @KPetersonPhD or by accessing her website  

By the way, if you need more help in moving your business from ordinary to extraordinary visit me, Craig Oliver at

Or follow fellow business owners on their journeys by checking out our O2E Business Academy on Facebook.

And read the show notes from our other amazingly informative, inspirational and gritty podcasts at

So many insights, tips, and ideas to be had! Just look back, listen, and learn.


Go on, smash through the glass ceiling, and move your business from Ordinary to Extraordinary.



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