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.
21 Inspiring Quotes About Success, Persistence And What It Means To Be An Entrepreneur
Leaders of companies big and small share the mindset it takes to achieve your dreams in the face of all obstacles.
True, being an entrepreneur can be exhausting, lonely, frustrating and terrifying. But it’s worth every drop of blood, sweat and tears when you are pursuing your passion, turning your dream into a reality.
In an ongoing series called Real Entrepreneurs, we pick the brains of founders and leaders about what it is like to have every decision big and small rest on their shoulders and have compiled their thoughts on what it takes to succeed on the long, sometimes crazy journey of an entrepreneur.
The Mindset Strategy From The “Rock Star” Coach Can Turn Your Beliefs Into Results
William Badenhorst, a Director of Global Strengths shares his mindset secret to ongoing entrepreneurial success.
William Badenhorst, a Director of Global Strengths, is a coach to the coaches. His “Rock Star” attitude along with the deep driving desire to help others find their true selves formed the fabric of a highly interesting and entertaining interview.
The rolling thunder of his voice brought forth quote after quote, quip after quip and wisdom after wisdom. As a “peak performance coach” to professional athletes, celebrities, entrepreneurs and corporate career orientated individuals, William believes that knowing who you truly are as an individual is the catalyst for lasting growth and useful change in business and in life in general.
His intense eyes and energetic hand gestures emphasized one of his core beliefs and that is that we all are nothing but our very own beliefs.
“Everyone is focused on Results”
Everyone is always focusing on the outcome – the results they want. But what creates results? Let’s do some reverse engineering. In order to achieve RESULTS we need to take ACTION. And in order to take ACTION we need to make a DECISION. To make a DECISION, we need to think about it – THOUGHTS.
The interesting thing about humans is that we do not create our thoughts, we can only control them. So what does create your thoughts? Your BELIEFS creates your THOUGHTS. So ultimately your BELIEFS creates your RESULTS.
“You don’t attract what you want, you attract what you are.”
It is our very own limiting beliefs, such as for example that “I am not good enough” and “I am not deserving” and “I’m not worthy ” that creates barriers to our own success in entrepreneurial ventures and in our lives. In order to reach our limitless potential we must find and remove the self-created barriers that hold us back.
Although he loves the interaction and benefits of social media he is quick to point out that it also has created a fantasy of who and what we should be. He advises to not to adopt such fantasy as your desired reality but to instead be who you really are as an individual and goes on to quote the famous Greek philosopher Socrates:
“Know thyself, Be thyself and Love thyself”
You always end up falling back on your beliefs -whether they are empowering or disempowering. The challenge with that is that a large number of your beliefs are unconscious especially when you have not put in the work to find out what your belief system truly is.
Through his vast experience as a coach he realized that a large number of people veer away from self-awareness as they are afraid of being judged for whom they truly are.
The conversation naturally evolved into the exploration of the true meaning of the concept of faith and William’s mind grasped at a Quote from the apostle Paul:
“Faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen”
He went on to explain that faith is evidence of true-self which creates certainty which in turn is equal to confidence. Confidence brings a certain state where everything flows. He calls it “Peak State”. He further advises to search for evidence of who you really are and gain belief in yourself.
Advice to young entrepreneurs
William’s thoughts on self-development for entrepreneurs are to get a Coach. If you are already in business and don’t have a Coach – get one! Begin with taking extreme ownership and responsibility of everything in your life. And when you do that you win.
Stop blaming everything and everyone around you. Stop complaining about circumstances. You are in control and it is up to you to make it happen. There are no un-resourceful people, there are only un-resourceful states. Go where you are celebrated not tolerated and love yourself unconditionally. Remove the very unrealistic expectations of what and who you should be and authentically be yourself. Believe in yourself and go all in on YOU!
Become the best form of yourself because as an entrepreneur you are the business. Play to your strengths and manage your weaknesses. You do not need a title to lead, have massive self-belief and others will follow.
Have an attitude of constant learning:
“If you are the smartest person in the room, you are in the wrong room”
And then yet another quote rolled off his tongue that put me in a self-reflective mood:
“A person that shines from within does not need a spotlight”
William Badenhorst, the father, the coach, the entrepreneur and key note speaker left the author and the reader with a question of mesmerising depth:
“What if you woke up this morning with only the things that you were grateful for last night?”
Gratitude is everything!
How You Can Move From Your Potential To Your Purpose
“Value isn’t in opinion, it’s in perspective” – Wes Boshoff
Let’s face it, we all know that when wanting to achieve something different, you need to do something different. The challenge isn’t in wanting the different, it’s in doing the different!
Mark Twain said, “The two most important days of your life are the day you were born and the day you find out why”.
I love that because it highlights the importance of knowing that you have a purpose, and that you need to find it or design it, then live it, love it and look after it.
You have heard it said or said it yourself…”that person has huge potential, if only they would…”. It’s great to have potential but potential doesn’t equate to purpose. They are like elastics, just sitting there on the desk, and it’s not much good to anyone just sitting there. You see there is a gap between potential and purpose and that gap is called ‘The Stretch’.
For that elastic to move from potential to purpose it needs to be stretched, and only once its stretched and put round a bunch of pens does that elastic really move into its purpose. We are a lot like elastics, we need to be stretched to move from potential to purpose. The stretch isn’t always easy because we tend to get twisted out of shape when we need to do something different. However, the stretch is not designed to change who we are, just change how we are.
Here are a few ideas to help you in The Stretch.
Think about what you think about – it’s all in your perspective
Things are achieved or not achieved depending on how we think about them. Do you focus on the obstacles or the opportunities? It’s easy to see the obstacles, the key is to choose which one you going to focus on. Obstacles will always get in the way of opportunities if you let them. So, remain attentive to the possibilities that opportunity brings.
That means you need to position yourself in the way of opportunity, get in its way – make something happen, don’t just sit there! There’s a catch to this one though, opportunity never travels alone, it always comes with responsibility. Do you have the ability to respond to the opportunity? Are you taking responsibility, often we are given it, but we don’t really take it! You need to take and own the responsibility to maximise the opportunity!
Beware of distraction
‘Dis’ – a prefix meaning reversal, or the absence of action and traction refers to grip. When you get distracted you lose grip and that’s dangerous. Imagine driving, suddenly, you’ve lost traction, you are heading in the wrong direction, you may even end up going backwards.
Make sure you stick to what you need to do, create daily productive habits that will help you achieve in the long term. Grow your capacity and increase your footprint. Gain traction by repeating what works for you, that way your practice becomes repeatable and your brand becomes reputable. Don’t stop moving, its easier to change direction while you are still moving, than it is to start moving.
Things don’t always work out
Employ the “What’s Wrong – What’s Next?” philosophy. When things go wrong with people, products or plans, we can get caught up in drama. There’s no time for drama, simply define what went wrong and decide what needs to be done next to fix it. Once fixed, then deal with the doer of the wrong, but deal with them in the right way too…you still don’t need drama!
“Value isn’t in opinion, it’s in perspective” – Wes Boshoff
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