How to Perform Under Stress
Updated: Jan 21, 2019
Performing under stress is applying the power of intention to interpret situations. It's taking the control in our hands to decide if we perceive things – as a desperate or an enabling turn of events.
Remember Frank Abangale Sr. in the movie, Catch Me If You Can? “Two mice fell in a bucket of cream. The first mouse quickly gave up and drowned. The second mouse, wouldn't quit. He struggled so hard that eventually he churned that cream into butter and crawled out.”
Now, which of the two mice you think you are?
I am quite used to seeing dropped jaws and raised eyebrows when I respond to people's heart-breaking stories of stress by saying: stress is the best thing that happens to us.
Stress – the best thing? What? Really?
Take a deep breath and give it a second thought. Do you see that the beast in our stories of stress is not in fact the situations of our lives, but our “evaluation” of those situations?
But how we perceive a negative situation positively?
Body does not respond to a situation, but what we tell our mind about the situation. Our evaluation of a situation determines whether the body would respond in the fight-flight-freeze or dare- to- master- the- situation mode.
A negative evaluation of a situation is going blind, refusing to see any opportunities. It results in the brain triggering a complex chain of neurochemical reactions. They are experienced as sweating, tension in muscles, rapid heartbeat, nausea, dizziness, fainting, indigestion, high blood pressure, confusion, and lack of concentration. The cumulative effect on mind is an overwhelming sense of doom.
A positive evaluation of a situation is refusing to be overwhelmed; It's the power to see the glass half-full, actualized. A positive evaluation triggers the let-me-fix-it-up drive. Body responds accordingly. No matter how threatening a situation, you know you're going to come out of it fine, even better.
A long time ago, a good friend of mine taught me a great trick. When you find you're the water boiling in the nose of a kettle “just substitute the word problem with OFG (opportunity for growth)" – the mindset of the second mouse
The jaws drop even lower and the eyebrows rise even higher, when I tell people to embrace not escape stress.
Embrace stress? But why? How at all could one even think of doing that?
Because stress is the best thing that happens to us!
Remember the excitement of being in control of a situation? Well, that's when you're experiencing optimum stress resulting in optimum performance. Optimum stress level is the midpoint between two extremes on your stress meter: the edginess and the dullness. This is where the creative forces of stress begin to work to our advantage– where brain activates the experience of alertness, enthusiasm, and wellbeing.
Store the above image in memory to evaluate your stress level in response to situations. Practice monitoring your stress level in response to situations on this scale. In some time, when your mind will assimilate the stress meter, you'll find that an alarm goes off in you as the needle moves to edginess or dullness. It's your reminder to re-evaluate a situation. Apply the power of intention for a positive assessment of a situation. You'll find that the the needle moves back to the optimum level; your brain begins to function again.
Remember: Optimum stress is optimum performance.
Also remember: stress is the best thing that happens to us; we are the second mouse; we see the glass half-full!
--------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------- Wali Muhammad
Director, The Behavioural Skills Company