• Discover Your BestStressZone™

    From the field to the office, stress is an undeniable part of life. Stress can be a powerful motivator that helps us reach our goal, but it can also have a profoundly negative impact on our lives, impacting our relationships, our work, and even our health. Studies have shown that very high levels stress can be a health risk.

     

    Because of this, many and that we’re often encouraged to avoid it if we want to live happy, productive, and long lives. But research suggests that some stress can actually be beneficial to performance. When stress levels are too low, it can be difficult to to stay motivated and focused.

     

    Imagine that you're a professional athlete, and gameday has arrived. If you're excessively worried or anxious about the game, it can be difficult to stay focused and in the right mindset for success. If you aren't even slightly stressed about the game, however, it can be equally and difficult to stay motivated and focused.

     

    Take a look at the picture above. When physiological or mental arousal (stress) increases, it's easier to achieve your goals, but only up to a point. When the level of stress becomes too high, performance decreases. The shape of the curve varies based on the complexity and familiarity of the task.

     

    Studies have supported these results. In one animal study, researchers assessed cortisol (a stress biomarker) levels in squirrels. High levels of cortisol indicate the animal was under high levels of environmental stress, and low levels of cortisol indicated low levels of overall stress. In the study, researchers used several methods to assess the squirrel's learning abilities. Squirrels facing very high or low levels of stress weren't able to learn as well as squirrels experiencing moderate levels of stress.

     

    In recent years, researchers have expanded this theory even farther. Different tasks require different levels of arousal for optimal performance, research has found. For example, difficult or unfamiliar tasks require lower levels of arousal to facilitate concentration; by contrast, you may better perform tasks demanding stamina or persistence with higher levels of arousal to induce and increase motivation.

     

    Given this relationship between stress and performance,

    how much stress are you experiencing in your own life?

     

    TAKE THE THREE MINUTE ASSESSMENT

     

    Increase your control. One simple solution to lowering stress is to find more ways to increase your control over the work you do. People tend to believe that high-level positions bring a lot of stress, but research suggests just the opposite: Leaders with higher levels of responsibility experience lower stress levels than those with less on their shoulders. This is because leaders have more control over their activities. Independent of where you sit in the organizational hierarchy, you may have ways to increase your sense of control—namely, by focusing on aspects of your work where you can make choices.

     

    Find more opportunities to be authentic. 

     

    Evidence suggests that people often experience feelings of inauthenticity at work. That is, they conform to the opinions of colleagues rather than voicing their own, and they go with others’ flow rather than setting their own agenda. This has important implications for your stress level and performance. When people behave in inauthentic ways, they experience higher levels of anxiety than when they are simply themselves. So, try to find ways to express who you are at work, such as offering to share your unique talents or decorating your office to reflect who you are.

     

    Use rituals. 

     

    Basketball superstar Michael Jordan wore his North Carolina shorts underneath his Chicago Bulls shorts at every game; Curtis Martin of the New York Jets reads Psalm 91 before every game; and Wade Boggs, as third baseman for the Boston Red Sox, ate chicken before each game and took batting practice at exactly 5:17 p.m., fielded exactly 117 ground balls, and ran sprints at precisely 7:17 p.m. These rituals may sound strange, but they can actually improve performance.

     

    In one recent experiment, people asked to hit a golf ball into a hole received either a so-called “lucky” golf ball or an ordinary golf ball. In another experiment, participants performing a motor dexterity task (placing 36 small balls in 36 holes by tilting the plastic cube containing them) were either asked to simply start the game or heard the researcher say they would cross their fingers for them. The superstitious rituals enhanced people’s confidence in their abilities, motivated greater effort — and improved subsequent performance.

     

    Similarly, research in sports psychology demonstrates the performance benefits of pre-performance routines, from improving attention and execution to increasing emotional stability and confidence. When people engage in rituals before undertaking high-stakes tasks, they feel less anxious and stressed about the task and end up performing better as a result.

    A moderate amount of stress may put you in the right mindset to tackle your work. But if you are feeling overwhelmed, I hope you’ll try out some of these strategies to not only improve your productivity but also to increase your happiness.

  • Are you in the Zone?

    Click below to take a three minute assessment.