Why we may experience more success at work under pressure
Are there certain things that you continue to delay scheduling or completing because you know you’ll do a better job if you just wait until the absolute last minute? Why is it that we end up rushing to catch up on some of the most critical parts of our lives? Do we actually experience more success at work under pressure?
If you find that you often put (important) things off until right up to the deadline, you’re not alone! The good news: there IS some truth behind the idea that we can work better under pressure, but it’s not a one-size-fits-all scenario.
Later in this article, you’ll find a link to a popular podcast episode from Tim Ferriss with his take on “stress.” He explains how he had no choice but to take intentional action in order to cancel out the major source of it in his life.
What is Eustress?
Have you’ve heard about the lesser-known concept of eustress? According to prominent researchers in New Zealand, basic stress is an important component for learning and anything connected to “stress‐related growth.”
And eustress, specifically, has been positively correlated with the high-performance levels of world-class athletes, artists, and geniuses of all kinds. It’s often described as “a beneficial, healthy, and optimal amount of stress, associated with positive feelings,” which is in deep contrast to the more commonly known feeling of dis-stress. It explains the phenomenon that of why many experience more success at work under pressure.
The term was coined by Hans Selye in 1974. In his paper, Psychopathology of human adaptation, Hans explains that all stress is the ”response of the body to any demand that it receives” and that ”all living beings are constantly under stress.”
Are you constantly in a position to work under pressure?
Stress is anything (pleasant or unpleasant) that speeds up the intensity of life. So, in this case, both intimate and intimidating moments can have a strong effect on our nervous system. And this, in turn, causes our cortisol levels to rise.
The ”good stress” can make us feel positive: excited, intrigued, engaged. And sometimes, we’ll interpret unfamiliar feelings as anxiety, like what we might experience when we begin working with a new team or taking on unfamiliar tasks. Here is where the eustress comes in. It pushes us to new heights with encouragement to dive into new experiences like implementing a new process, finishing a tough workout, or taking on a major renovation project. These examples show a potential for success involving nearly any kind of work under pressure.
We all experience eustress differently
Eustress isn’t going to always feel pleasant because it’s there to help push us into being better and achieving more, which sometimes requires immense amounts of mental (and physical) strength.
Adrenaline is released when we are both anxious and excited in negative and positive situations. And according to Alison Wood Brooks, a professor at Harvard Business School, we can use this connection to ultimately choose how we want to respond.
Her research about this phenomenon highlights the fact that trying to “calm down” during a bout of anxiety is nearly impossible. Instead, talk to yourself, saying: “I am excited.” It’s the simple reframing of a thought, but we need to decide to make it happen.
This works because anxiety and excitement are both considered “arousal emotions” that create similar symptoms. An attempt to shift gears from anxiety to excitement is a lot easier than trying to be calm.
It’s also key to developing resilience, which is imperative for your emotional health. For most of us, resilience isn’t something we’re born with. It’s something we develop through times of basic struggle — times of eustress. The process of living through hard days teaches us how to survive even harder days. Eustress is vital to that process and our success when it’s unavoidable to work under pressure.
When it becomes dangerous to work under pressure
When we allow our thoughts to continue spiraling forward, further away from eustress and closer to actual fear, we begin missing out on the beneficial effects that drive us.
We may feel overly anxious about underperforming in a wide variety of scenarios: not impressing a new team, potential miscommunications, or failing in general. This can be terrifying for some.
And what about overcoming the typical, anxiety-inducing events of life that we have to encounter? Besides the usual advice of getting enough exercise and proper sleep, we can also control what we consume.
Tim Ferriss on canceling his sources of stress and anxiety
In one of his most popular podcast episodes, author and entrepreneur Tim Ferriss explains that his greatest cause of stress (which he ultimately squashed) was triggered by outside forces. “The news,” he said, “was my single biggest source of anxiety.”
The websites he read every day consistently featured “crime, corruption, economic breakdown, and the end of the world,” which resulted in feelings of overwhelm and fear. “One day, it finally dawned on me: my fear of an imaginary future was destroying my ability to enjoy the present. And what planted those seeds of fear? The news.”
While the news may not be our primary source of fear-inducing feelings, it’s important to look at what’s influencing our fear on a daily basis. To take advantage of any positive forms of stress in our life—like the stress that’s encouraging us to take action and build a better future—we need to be consistent in removing the lingering negativity from our conscious awareness.
We have to choose to replace unsettling thoughts with neutral or positive ideas because whatever we decide to let hang around (concepts, people, environments) inevitably shapes who we are. And feeling any stress (or eustress) without taking any action towards changing it will leave us feeling stuck, angry, and hopeless.
How will you choose to feel?
Where do we find the strength to take action towards a better “tomorrow” when we’re struggling to calm anxiety about the future? Psychologists are quick to point out that uncertainty is potentially one of the most damaging feelings for our mental health. It leaves us unable to plan ahead or manage our everyday emotions. If you’re feeling slightly uninspired or unable, know that you’re not alone. There’s no magic bullet here. But there is a formula.
- Refresh Mindset Daily +
- Engage in Disciplined Action =
- Genuine Fulfillment (to calm anxiety about the future)
Taking action helps to calm anxiety about the future
You may be wanting to take more action, create impact, and plan your goals for the future, but there may be something slowing you down. Personal stressors may include fear, helplessness, boredom, and potentially random, unnamable feelings that seem to linger right beneath the surface of our psyche. It’s not just you. There has been an overload of widespread emotional exhaustion since early 2020 that’s created a collective psychological strain. And this has been in conjunction with potential physical and financial burdens. We’ve simply grown weary of being careful. Many are simply struggling to calm anxiety about the future. Author, speaker, and thought leader Jim Rohn refers to this type of experience as a “winter.”
Jim Rohn on “winters”
“What to do about winters? You can’t get rid of January simply by tearing it off the calendar. Here is what you can do: You can get stronger; you can get wiser; you can get better. The winters won’t change, but you can.” — Jim Rohn
And there are all kinds of winters: the economic winter, the relationship winter, and the health and fitness winter. Then there are, of course, the long winters where nothing goes as planned. For some, winter arrived months too early.
Yes, you CAN gain strength during this season of uncertainty! Since most of our thoughts are directly controlling how we feel at any given moment, both the good and the bad feelings will inspire the actions we choose to do (or not do).
For example, a negative feeling can potentially trigger us to make the wrong choice when we’d typically use more logic. Or, we may choose to distract ourselves with television because it feels better and easier than focusing on needle-moving projects.
With this in mind, wouldn’t it be great if we could better control what we are thinking about at each moment, and in turn, change our feelings, potential actions, and even success? The truth? Implementing new habits is not easy.
But we’ve put together a collection of some of the best psychologist-approved action steps that you can implement right away if you’re looking to increase mental energy, calm anxiety about the future, and avoid fatigue when attempting to work under pressure.
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