High Performance and Stress

In my view, pizza, booze, and Netflix won’t help anyone manage stress, especially over the long term.  But de-stressing strategies that lead to top performance bring the best kind of relief.  After all, you’re destined to be a rising star, hero, academic, transformer, tycoon, or whatever you desire.

I once had severe workplace anxiety, and if not careful, I could have a relapse.  So, I’m no stranger to techniques for de-stressing.

Here are a few strategies I use for managing stress for top performance:

Minimize stressors that don’t advance your goals.

If cleaning your home gives you stress, as it once did to me, but an untidy home also gives you stress, either find a way to delegate the task or, better still, do what I did and master the task.  I schedule cleaning three times every day, and am hyper-disciplined.  Strangely, 100% discipline is more manageable than 99%.

Some stressors, however, don’t advance your goals.  For instance, a friend who demands to meet for coffee twice a week may be better suited as a productive exercise buddy.  Or a parent who argues with you endlessly over the phone, demanding you spend time together, may be better served as a companion at a restaurant.  It’s killing two birds with one stone.  Minimize stressors by reworking them into strengths wherever you can.

Be highly prepared for stress-inducing activities, such as exams.

Practice, practice, practice.  Being thoroughly prepared will minimize your fear of failure and, thus, reduce your stress.  When under pressure, being prepared helps automate your activity, such as exam-taking, leading to a higher probability of success.  Stated differently, you will typically perform only as well as you practice.  So, make your practice and preparation count.

De-stress with good health. 

Not just your mind but your body may be susceptible to stress, and mind and body work in tandem.  Healthy living takes good care of both mind and body.  Healthy living means eating clean, anti-stress foods, such as bananas, avocadoes, seeds, and salmon.  It also means removing toxins and caffeine.  Just as importantly, it requires regular exercise for maximum health.  Meditation or deep breathing also reduces stress levels.  De-stress your body with health, and your mind will benefit.

Develop detailed, highly structured routines. 

A highly disciplined routine prevents second-guessing: “Am I focusing on the right things?” or “What should I focus on next?” When you are unclear or uncertain about what you should be doing, that can cause stress.  A highly structured routine can automate processes so that you don’t feel overwhelmed.  I find that timing and recording every task, from grooming to vacuuming, helps me schedule highly efficient, doable routines.

Be self-critical the right way.

Self-criticism is valuable.  I don’t mean self-criticism where you feel deep sorrow, self-blame, guilt, or animosity.  After all, it’s best to look forward and not backward.  I’m talking about the self-criticism that helps you to grow.

For instance, consider the following scenario: “I didn’t get an A on the exam, and I thought I studied hard.” Instead of feeling bad about yourself, it’s best to say, “I got a B, so yes, my studying process would benefit from some fine-tuning.  I love reading, so I’ll pick up a book or search the internet for study habits.  I’ll revisit the exam and figure out how to solve these questions.  I’ll find the correct answers through textbooks, my TA, and a Udemy course.”

Notice that the solutions were framed in the positive and didn’t focus on weaknesses.  For instance, the scenario didn’t express, “I failed to get an A, so I’ll see where I went wrong and what I’m struggling with.” Notice how the prior positive framing gave you energy, whereas this negative framing did the opposite?  Try reframing and journaling all self-criticisms so that they are strictly positive.

Avoid a wandering mind.

I had severe anxiety with a tinge of obsessive control disorder (OCD).  I no longer experience this, but I’ve realized part of my problem was letting my mind wander way too much.  While this may not be clinically provable, a wandering mind does not jive with high performance.  I’ve also learned that training the mind not to wander helps curtail stress-inducing thoughts.  And the more we focus our thoughts on positivity, the less stressed we feel.

Take breaks that immediately advance your goal.

Breaks where you drift are not optimal.  That’s because a drifting mind can lead to stressful thoughts.  On the flip side, breaks where you schedule high-valued, enjoyable activities can recharge you.  The best breaks also advance your performance goals.  For instance, lying down briefly while visualizing step-by-step what you will do for the next several hours is a highly productive break.

Learn how to minimize stress in relationships.

I’ve found the first step to reducing relationship stress is never arguing with your significant other.  Also, never criticize, complain, or confront your true love.  By choosing nonaggression, life becomes more harmonious.  And if you, like me years ago, have stress so severe you can’t work, take heart.  Your day to shine is just a strategy away.

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