The ability to manage your emotions and remain calm under pressure has a direct link to your performance. TalentSmart has conducted research with more than a million people, and we’ve found that 90 percent of top performers are skilled at managing their emotions in times of stress in order to remain calm and in control.
If you follow my work, you’ve read some startling research summaries that explore the havoc stress can wreak on one’s physical and mental health (such as the Yale study, which found that prolonged stress causes degeneration in the area of the brain responsible for self-control).
The tricky thing about stress (and the anxiety that comes with it) is that it’s an absolutely necessary emotion. Our brains are wired such that it’s difficult to take action until we feel at least some level of this emotional state. In fact, performance peaks under the heightened activation that comes with moderate levels of stress. As long as the stress isn’t prolonged, it’s harmless.
Research from the University of California, Berkeley, reveals an upside to experiencing moderate levels of stress. But it also reinforces how important it is to keep stress under control. The study, led by post-doctoral fellow Elizabeth Kirby, found that the onset of stress entices the brain into growing new cells responsible for improved memory. However, this effect is only seen when stress is intermittent. As soon as the stress continues beyond a few moments into a prolonged state, it suppresses the brain’s ability to develop new cells.
“I think intermittent stressful events are probably what keeps the brain more alert, and you perform better when you are alert,” Kirby says. For animals, intermittent stress is the bulk of what they experience, in the form of physical threats in their immediate environment. Long ago, this was also the case for humans. As the human brain evolved and increased in complexity, we’ve developed the ability to worry and perseverate on events, which creates frequent experiences of prolonged stress.
Besides increasing your risk of heart disease, depression and obesity, stress decreases your cognitive performance. Fortunately, though, unless a lion is chasing you, the bulk of your stress is subjective and under your control. Top performers have well-honed coping strategies that they employ under stressful circumstances. This lowers their stress levels regardless of what’s happening in their environment, ensuring that the stress they experience is intermittent and not prolonged.
While I’ve run across numerous effective strategies that smart people employ when faced with stress, what follows are ten of the best. Some of these strategies may seem obvious, but the real challenge lies in recognizing when you need to use them and having the wherewithal to actually do so in spite of your stress.
1. They appreciate what they have
Taking time to contemplate what you’re grateful for isn’t merely the “right” thing to do. It also improves your mood, because it reduces the stress hormone cortisol by 23 percent. Research conducted at the University of California, Davis found that people who worked daily to cultivate an attitude of gratitude experienced improved mood, energy and physical well-being. It’s likely that lower levels of cortisol played a major role in this.
2. They avoid asking “what if?”
“What if?” statements throw fuel on the fire of stress and worry. Things can go in a million different directions, and the more time you spend worrying about the possibilities, the less time you’ll spend focusing on taking action that will calm you down and keep your stress under control. Calm people know that asking “what if? will only take them to a place they don’t want — or need — to go.
3. They stay positive
Positive thoughts help make stress intermittent by focusing your brain’s attention onto something that is completely stress-free. You have to give your wandering brain a little help by consciously selecting something positive to think about. Any positive thought will do to refocus your attention. When things are going well, and your mood is good, this is relatively easy. When things are going poorly, and your mind is flooded with negative thoughts, this can be a challenge.
In these moments, think about your day and identify one positive thing that happened, no matter how small. If you can’t think of something from the current day, reflect on the previous day or even the previous week. Or perhaps you’re looking forward to an exciting event that you can focus your attention on. The point here is that you must have something positive that you’re ready to shift your attention to when your thoughts turn negative.
4. They disconnect
Given the importance of keeping stress intermittent, it’s easy to see how taking regular time off the grid can help keep your stress under control. When you make yourself available to your work 24/7, you expose yourself to a constant barrage of stressors. Forcing yourself offline and even — gulp! — turning off your phone gives your body a break from a constant source of stress. Studies have shown that something as simple as an email break can lower stress levels.
Technology enables constant communication and the expectation that you should be available 24/7. It is extremely difficult to enjoy a stress-free moment outside of work when an email that will change your train of thought and get you thinking about work can drop onto your phone at any moment. If detaching yourself from work-related communication on weekday evenings is too big a challenge, then how about the weekend?
Choose blocks of time where you cut the cord and go offline. You’ll be amazed at how refreshing these breaks are and how they reduce stress by putting a mental recharge into your weekly schedule.
If you’re worried about the negative repercussions of taking this step, first try doing it at times when you’re unlikely to be contacted — maybe Sunday morning. As you grow more comfortable with it, and as your coworkers begin to accept the time you spend offline, gradually expand the amount of time you spend away from technology.
5. They limit their caffeine intake
Drinking caffeine triggers the release of adrenaline. Adrenaline is the source of the “fight-or-flight” response, a survival mechanism that forces you to stand up and fight or run for the hills when faced with a threat. The fight-or-flight mechanism sidesteps rational thinking in favor of a faster response.
This is great when a bear is chasing you, but not so great when you’re responding to a curt email. When caffeine puts your brain and body into this hyperaroused state of stress, your emotions overrun your behavior. The stress that caffeine creates is far from intermittent, as its long half-life ensures that it takes its sweet time working its way out of your body.
6. They sleep
I’ve beaten this one to death over the years and can’t say enough about the importance of sleep to increasing your emotional intelligence and managing your stress levels. When you sleep, your brain literally recharges, so that you wake up alert and clear-headed. Your self-control, attention and memory are all reduced when you don’t get enough — or the right kind — of sleep.
Sleep deprivation raises stress hormone levels on its own, even without a stressor present. Stressful projects often make you feel as if you have no time to sleep, but taking the time to get a decent night’s sleep is often the one thing keeping you from getting things under control.
7. They squash negative self-talk
A big step in managing stress involves stopping negative self-talk in its tracks. The more you ruminate on negative thoughts, the more power you give them. Most of our negative thoughts are just that — thoughts, not facts. When you find yourself believing the negative and pessimistic things your inner voice says, it’s time to stop and write them down. Literally stop what you’re doing and write down what you’re thinking. Once you’ve taken a moment to slow down the negative momentum of your thoughts, you will be more rational and clear-headed in evaluating their veracity.
You can bet that your statements aren’t true any time you use words like “never,” “worst,” “ever,” etc. If your statements still look like facts once they’re on paper, take them to a friend or colleague you trust and see if he or she agrees with you. Then the truth will surely come out. When it feels like something always or never happens, this is just your brain’s natural threat tendency inflating the perceived frequency or severity of an event. Identifying and labeling your thoughts as thoughts by separating them from the facts will help you escape the cycle of negativity and move toward a positive new outlook.
8. They reframe their perspective
Stress and worry are fueled by our own skewed perception of events. It’s easy to think that unrealistic deadlines, unforgiving bosses and out-of-control traffic are the reasons we’re so stressed all the time. You can’t control your circumstances, but you can control how you respond to them.
So before you spend too much time dwelling on something, take a minute to put the situation in perspective. If you aren’t sure when you need to do this, try looking for clues that your anxiety may not be proportional to the stressor.
If you’re thinking in broad, sweeping statements such as “Everything is going wrong” or “Nothing will work out,” then you need to reframe the situation. A great way to correct this unproductive thought pattern is to list the specific things that actually are going wrong or not working out.
Most likely you will come up with just some things — not everything — and the scope of these stressors will look much more limited than it initially appeared.
9. They breathe
The easiest way to make stress intermittent lies in something that you have to do everyday anyway: breathing. The practice of being in the moment with your breathing will begin to train your brain to focus solely on the task at hand and get the stress monkey off your back. When you’re feeling stressed, take a couple of minutes to focus on your breathing. Close the door, put away all other distractions and just sit in a chair and breathe.
The goal is to spend the entire time focused only on your breathing, which will prevent your mind from wandering. Think about how it feels to breathe in and out. This sounds simple, but it’s hard to do for more than a minute or two. It’s all right if you get sidetracked by another thought; this is sure to happen at the beginning, and you just need to bring your focus back to your breathing. If staying focused on your breathing proves to be a real struggle, try counting each breath in and out until you get to 20, and then start again from 1. Don’t worry if you lose count; you can always just start over.
This task may seem too easy or even a little silly, but you’ll be surprised by how calm you feel afterward and how much easier it is to let go of distracting thoughts that otherwise seem to have lodged permanently inside your brain.
10. They use their support system
It’s tempting, yet entirely ineffective, to attempt tackling everything by yourself. To be calm and productive, you need to recognize your weaknesses and ask for help when you need it. This means tapping into your support system when a situation is challenging enough for you to feel overwhelmed.
Everyone has someone at work and/or outside work who is on their team, rooting for them and ready to help them get the best from a difficult situation. Identify these individuals in your life and make an effort to seek their insight and assistance when you need it. Something as simple as talking about your worries will provide an outlet for your anxiety and stress and supply you with a new perspective on the situation. Most of the time, other people can see a solution that you can’t because they are not as emotionally invested in the situation. Asking for help will mitigate your stress and strengthen your relationships with those you rely upon.
Bringing It All Together
Overwhelming anxiety and empowerment are mutually exclusive. Any time you are overcome with enough stress/anxiety to limit your performance, just follow the steps above to empower yourself and regain control.
This article was originally posted here on Entrepreneur.com.
Better Thinking For A Better World
How to think more critically and strategically in a world filled with complexity and rapid change.
We take the act of thinking for granted. It is often seen as a skill one is born with and not one that should be cultivated over time.
As the world becomes more complex and more busy, strategic and critical thinking becomes more valuable. Strategic thinking points to the ability to decide how and when to deploy resources to achieve a certain end state.
Below are four areas of focus that will improve your strategic thinking:
1. Making Time For Reflection
Life is busy. Juggling work, friends and family, and the recurring notifications from your phone has become quite a feat. Therefore, it is becoming increasingly important to create space for reflection.
Time spent in solitude allows you to reflect and connect the dots. It temporarily takes you out of a world in which you must be reactive to survive and keep up.
My suggestion is to create a SOS (space of solitude) for at least 30 minutes every day. In this time, reflect on what has been working and what has not been working. Meditate on your goals for the future and plan for the actions that will help you get there.
2. Asking Better Questions
Many of us fall into the trap of sequential problem solving. This happens when leaders or organisations simply move from one challenge to the next and the only question they ask is “how do we overcome this challenge?”.
What about the questions like “how did we arrive here?” or “what assumptions are we making here?” or “what does better look like?”
I am not trying to give you a template of questions to ask. Merely prodding you to go beyond challenging the problem but to also challenge the thinking about the problem.
As we deepen our questions, we elevate our thinking.
Do not simply ask more questions. Ask better questions.
3. Seek More Input
Teams are great and often underutilized. How can you use your team’s knowledge, experience, and opinions in a more constructive way?
Well, how about allowing them sufficient time for reflection in solitude but also as a group. How about prompting them to look for the patterns in their environment? How about, as a leader, asking them questions that allow them to really stretch their cognitive abilities?
Even better, empower them to ask those questions themselves.
Related: Disruptive Thinking: A Winning Edge
4. Thinking rules
We often make the same mistakes over and over. Not because we have not learned the lesson but because the context changes. Or excitement gets the better of us.
During your reflection time (hopefully you have noticed the importance of this by now) you can reflect on your past decisions and figure out how you could have made better decision.
Once you have done this start jotting down a few personal rules that will help guide your decision making in the future. A personal guideline I established was that I will wait 24 hours before making any big purchase. Gadgets and golf gear often get the best of me. But simple rules like these help to guide my decision making and prevents me from making mistakes irrespective of context or emotional state.
What is next?
Starting today schedule a daily SOS. Yes, schedule it. Do not leave it to chance.
Think of it as training for your brain. A space where you get to think. Free of distraction and noise. You will be amazed at the clarity that comes from these sessions and how your productivity and effectiveness soars.
Flourishing Through Failure And Finding Fortune
What we mean by business failure is not the entire business failing due to running out of money or not meeting the target for the year.
Is there a way to flourish through failure when it comes to business operations? Is it something that should be encouraged or stand as grounds for dismissal? Or is all of this just nonsense in a world attempting to pursue perfection?
Let’s talk about failure
What we mean by business failure is not the entire business failing due to running out of money or not meeting the target for the year. We’re looking into the business, into those that make it run – its people.
People are imperfect and make mistakes all the time. But rather than brushing something off as a fail or mistake does no justice when it comes to learning from it. And there are different definitions and degrees of failure based on department and responsibility. But when you mess up and fail, you affect more than just your individual performance.
Related: Smart Money For Small Businesses
Here’s why it can be good for business
As frustrating as it is to have to “clean up” after an employee messes up, failure can actually be good for business.
- Fewer mistakes: Failing means you can learn from it and be less susceptible to failure in that area again in the future. When you fail, you become a lot more aware of your actions than before and critically analyse before you act for fear of messing up again.
- Relatability: This will never be a perfect world and businesses and people that don’t mess up are an intimidating and alien concept to the rest of us. If the incident affects the entire business, then use that material to tell your “success from failure” story and show everyone that you’re human and that it is possible to come back from it. Failure makes you relatable in the eyes of the public.
- Humility: In the same breath, you (as a business) learn to be humble in the times you do succeed, as those moments can be fleeting.
- Focus: Failure brings a newfound focus and determination to work harder and be better. It’s a shock to the system where you’re forced to bounce-back or continue to fail and jeopardise your position in the business.
- Innovation: And, finally, failure can be good for business when it encourages innovation. You need to innovate and find a way to sort out the problem that’s been created in a way that will also discourage it from happening again.
Finding fortune in failure
The abovementioned benefits, if you will, of failure are in themselves favoured fortune found in failing. But there are things such as intelligent failures, trial and error, and inspiration that are the true game changers when it comes to failing.
Intelligent failure is defined by Sim Sitkin as: “Learning, maximised and accelerated through the act of trial, error and communicating stories.”
These failures are, almost, planned specifically to generate a profitable and successful outcome. At a risk, of course, because you never actually know what the outcome is. Having a business strategy and plan, created with so much detail, gets put to the test where a trial and error system is used to determine what works, what needs to be tweaked, and what needs to be completely discarded and redesigned.
With intelligent failure, it’s what you make of it and where your motivation to fail is to progress. Unlike preventable and unavoidable failures.
But, in the moment, it’s always a bit harder to see the end of a failure’s repercussions. You do need to find a way to move forward though, once you’ve learned a lesson, there’s no point in wasting time dwelling on it. You need to keep moving forward.
Do what you need to do to better yourself and avoid similar situations in the future. One way to do that is to keep learning and adapting with that knowledge. Invest your time in sales, human resources, management or marketing courses. Whatever it takes to better your skills and encourage your mind to think more strategically and carefully when it comes to doing the job.
Get it into your head now that you will never be able to please everyone. And if you can do your job, own up to your errors, but a the same time provide your solutions, you will remain valuable to the business.
In order to move forward, you need to find your motivation and keep it going after you fail. And the way you do this is through support.
Every business operates as a team and you don’t have to be in it alone.
Take more calculated risks and try new things to challenge yourself to do better and find innovative solutions. This will keep you focused and motivated to keep pushing through previous disappointments as it will be a new and fun way of doing your job.
Magnify your goals, literally, on the wall or on your desktop. Keep reminding yourself what you’re striving for and understand that even when you do fail, that the goal has yet to be achieved and is still possible if you just put your mind to it.
At the end of the day, failure is whatever you make of it. You can choose to let it discourage you or you can manipulate it to help you grow and make you more resilient. Failure is an opportunity to do better next time and all successful business people fail, they just know how to deal with it.
Want To Feel Empowered? Check Out These 17 Quotes From Successful Entrepreneurs And Leaders
To achieve success, you must constantly feel empowered.
Feel empowered with these 17 quotes from famous leaders and entrepreneurs from around the worldCoco Chanel
With entrepreneurship comes its own set of trials and tribulations. Whether it’s bouncing back from failure or dealing with difficult investors, every stage of the entrepreneurial journey has its challenges. And to be successful, having the endurance to push through the tough times is necessary. Often, feeling empowered and being inspired will help get you there.
Empowerment is a necessity when it comes to building confidence, moving towards your goal and not listening to any discouraging words from others. And while empowerment can come from a variety of places, it has to start from within. As Coco Chanel once said, “My life didn’t please me, so I created my life.”
“The cynics may be the loudest voices – but I promise you, they will accomplish the least.” – Barack Obama
“I’m not the bravest or smartest person, but I’m courageous enough to dream big, challenge myself and take bold risks.” – Richard Branson
“It seems like the world is crumbling out there, but it is actually a great time in your life to get a little crazy, follow your curiosity and be ambitious about it.” – Larry Page
“My life didn’t please me, so I created my life.” – Coco Chanel
“We need to do a better job of putting ourselves higher on our own ‘to do’ list.” – Michelle Obama
“If we all did the things we are really capable of doing, we would literally astound ourselves.” – Thomas Edison
“You are not born with a fixed amount of resilience. Like a muscle, you can build it up, draw on it when you need it.” – Sheryl Sandberg
“As is a tale, so is life: Not how long it is, but how good it is, is what matters.” – J.K Rowling
“Know your core competencies and focus on being great at them.” – Mark Cuban
“In the end, we are our choices. Build yourself a great story.” – Jeff Bezos
“Sometimes, I shake if I have to do something that I’ve never done before – maybe not noticeably, but inside. But I’ll do it because I know it’s not an insurmountable task.” – Martha Stewart
“In your defining moments, do not let your morals be swayed by convenience or expediency. Sticking to your character requires a lot of courage.” – Steven Spielberg
“Should you find yourself in a chronically leaking boat, energy devoted to changing vessels is likely to be more proactive than energy devoted to patching leaks.” – Warren Buffett
“Your time is limited, so don’t waste it living someone else’s life.” – Steve Jobs
“The value of achievement lies in the achieving.” – Albert Einstein
“It’s your game; make up your own rules.” – Barbara Corcoran
This article was originally posted here on Entrepreneur.com.
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