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When Is Stress Good?

Posted by Douglas A Wick on Thu, Sep 26, 2013

Life can be filled with paradoxes.  Many times what we find to be challenging, difficult or extremely stressful can provide us with exactly the understanding and training we need in the future.

Stress can be good!Stress for Success resized 600

Perhaps you were a new manager at one time.  You probably recall stressful situations when you were new on the job that were extremely uncomfortable yet today you’d not blink an eye to accomplish.

As a salesperson presentations and meetings with prospects are often tension filled.  Once you’ve encountered similar situations and responded to them well they become easier and less stressful.  It’s one reason why role playing can be such a powerful growth building process. 

In The Power of Full Engagement:  PRINCIPLE 3 is: To build capacity, we must push beyond our normal limits, training in the same systematic way that elite athletes do.

Stress is not the enemy in our lives. Paradoxically, it is the key to growth. In order to build strength in a muscle we must systematically stress it, expending energy beyond normal levels.

At the end of a training session, functional capacity is diminished. But give the muscle twenty-four to forty-eight hours to recover and it grows stronger and better able to handle the next stimulus. It is just as relevant to building “muscles” in every dimension of our lives—from empathy and patience to focus and creativity to integrity and commitment. What applies to the body applies equally to the other dimensions of our lives. This insight both simplifies and revolutionizes the way we approach the barriers that stand in our way.

We build emotional, mental and spiritual capacity in precisely the same way that we build physical capacity.

Expose a muscle to ordinary demand and it won’t grow. With age it will actually lose strength. The limiting factor in building any “muscle” is that many of us back off at the slightest hint of discomfort. To meet increased demand in our lives, we must learn to systematically build and strengthen muscles wherever our capacity is insufficient.

Any form of stress that prompts discomfort has the potential to expand our capacity—physically, mentally, emotionally or spiritually—so long as it is followed by adequate recovery.  As Nietzsche put it, “That which does not kill us makes us stronger.”

Are there things that make you uncomfortable that you’ve been putting off or avoiding?  When you recognize that any uncomfortable and stressful situation can be a source of growth for your leadership, management or personal improvement, you can see the opportunity rather than the obstacle. 

If you feel you need help accepting stress in this form, consider picking up James Loehr’s book Stress for Success, which includes exercises to help you invite stress into your life more frequently to build your emotional, mental and spiritual capacity.

Have you struggled to change or adopt a new positive more effective method for performing?  Will and discipline are far more limited resources than most of us realize. If you have to think about something each time you do it, the likelihood is that you won’t keep doing it for very long. The status quo has a magnetic pull on us.

A positive ritual is a behavior that becomes automatic over time—fueled by some deeply held value.  Principle 4 looks at the importance of building rituals in our lives. We’ll examine this next blog.    

Topics: employee performance, time management, The Power of Full Engagement

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Doug Wick, President

Positioning Systems


The Strategic Discipline Blog focuses on midsize business owners with a ravenous appetite to improve his or her leadership skills and business results.

Our 3 disciplines include:

- Priorities
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- Meeting Rhythms

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