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The Perception of Stress!

“There is no good or bad without us; there is only perception. There is the event itself and the story we tell ourselves about what it means. Ryan Holiday

Ralph Waldo Emerson wrote, “Fear defeats more people than any other one thing in the world.” He was right, of course, but I’ll add my own footnote: The problem with fear, anxiety, worry, and stress, is that they are not always grounded in situational reality.

Our perception can feed our reality through a Future-Negative frame that expresses itself as fear. Future-Negative language follows, cementing negative performance results. When we ruminate in the Future-Negative mindset, the result is what we commonly call stress.

The 2019 article, Workplace Stress in Senior Executives: Coaching the “Uncoachable,” in International Coaching Psychology Review, explains that the emergence of perceived stress happens in two steps:

1. Appraisal of environmental demands

2. Appraisal of resources available to deal effectively with the stressors.

One study cited by the authors suggests that the pressures of lack of time and resources (internal and external) are key sources of stress for leaders.

As Harvard adult development psychologist and IOC thought leader Robert Kegan shares in his book, In Over our Heads, stress happens when the demands of the moment exceed one’s perception of one’s capacities. We feel in over our heads.

High stress can manifest in various ways, ranging from antisocial and aggressive behaviour at work or home, to sleep deprivation, excessive drinking, or illness. It can also result in leader burnout, leading to a loss in connectedness and productivity, characterized by exhaustion, cynicism, and inefficacy.

After all, stress is simply a messenger, as Robert Kegan would say. The message? You are perceiving that you are in over your head in this moment. You have a choice: reduce the demands and accept your limitations or grow to access more of your internal resources and rise to the challenge of external demands. Stress is the signpost that growth is ahead. In other words, a moment of stress is the perfect opportunity for a coaching moment!

This is not just you; players in professional sport also develop a love/hate relationship with stress. Typically, with experience, we learn how to handle external stressors, like having to score the next goal during the second period of overtime in the Stanley Cup finals. As Kegan suggested, when players are perceiving that they are in over their heads, stress appears to be real. This is where perceived negative experiences can be helpful, as we learn to recognize the feeling that we are in over our heads. Remember, Kegan clarifies our options: reduce external demands or increase internal resources.

The perception of stress usually accompanies change because we are forced into new experiences and challenges. Such is the dichotomy of high-performance. To get better, we need stressors and heightened experiences to challenge us and grow our leadership skills. The dichotomy: we neither like, nor plan for them.

We want to play at the NHL level but prefer not to practice!

Two pieces of practical advice to challenge our mindset as we move towards increasing our internal resources this season.

1 – Choose to see difficult circumstances with a focus on what is happening in me not what is happening to me. Seeing ourselves as victims hampers our ability to change.

Stephen Covey puts it this way:

“Proactive people don’t blame circumstances, conditions, or conditioning for their behavior. Their behavior is a product of their own conscious choice, based on values.”

2 – Choose to see failure as an opportunity. Force yourself to peer through the Future-Positive lens of learning rather than the Past-Negative lens of regret. Feel negative experiences as bathing in growth, not sinking in the grind.

As Ryan Holiday writes in The Obstacle Is The Way:

“Each time you fail, you’ll learn something. Each time, you’ll develop strength, wisdom, and perspective. Each time, a little more of the competition falls away. Until all that is left is you: the best version of you.”

Difficult days ahead? Potentially.

Ready to grow? Let’s do it together!

Many of our corporate clients are engaging our services to energize their teams, focus their cultural mindset, and brainstorm processes around how to maximize their team COMMUNICATION.

Your intentions don’t matter. Perception is reality. If people perceive you the wrong way, it doesn’t matter what your intentions are.”

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