Stress for Success

Based on the book by James E. Loehr

An Overview of the Conventional Wisdom about Stress
Two kinds of Stress:

1. Distress = bad stress. Manifested physically and emotionally. Physically, people get aches and pains, colds, headaches, back-aches, ulcers, stomach problems, heart problems, etc. Emotionally, people lose it by flying off the handle, or become noncommunicative. Conventional wisdom says that if we have Distress, we need to either eliminate the source of the stress or find ways to cope with the stress.
2. Eustress = good stress. This is the kind of stress we put on ourselves or the kind that is put on us that helps us accomplish things.. We set deadlines, we set goals, we take actions that get our adrenaline going. Without this kind of stress, we really wouldn’t accomplish very much.

Coping with Distress Physically
Let’s look first at Distress:
In order to cope with Distress, we need to attack it where it lives, where it has attacked us – on the physical side and on the emotional side. On the physical side, we need to exercise (20 minutes a day, three times a week of aerobic exercise as a bare minimum)

Coping with Distress Emotionally
On the emotional side we need to:
1. Do more of what we like to do. A hobby, e.g. – so long as it does not involve doing what is causing the stress to begin with.
2. Talk to someone about our stress. Someone who will listen – a family member, a friend, a priest, or possibly a therapist.
3. Find ways to meditate or relax. (Prayer is a form of meditation!).

Group Exercise
Have groups of three or four discuss with each other their own individual techniques for coping with stress – get feedback.

Eustress and Stress for Success
Now let’s look at Eustress, or good stress.
If we can turn our Distress into Eustress, we will be able to eliminate or cope more effectively with the stress of our jobs and our lives. So we each have techniques that help us cope with Distress by turning into Eustress or at least minimizing the Distress. Stress for Success suggests that we can make all of our stress good stress or Eustress.

Myths about Stress
Let’s first look at some myths about stress:

  • Stress is always bad and should be avoided whenever possible.
  • Freedom from stress will bring you great happiness.
  • Stress undermines your health.
  • The less stress in your life, the more productive you’ll be.
  • If you can’t handle the stress, get out of the fast lane.
  • Stress capacity is inborn.
  • The greater stress in your life, the less happy you are likely to be.
  • The older you get, the more you need to protect yourself from stress.
  • Stressing your body and brain eventually wears them out.
  • The level of stress in your life is a direct reflection of how many bad things have happened to you.

Stress Exposure and Stress Response
Stress of all kinds – physical, mental, and emotional – is good for you. The most important aspect of stress is the difference between stress exposure and stress response. The ultimate impact of stress in your life is determined not by the stress exposure itself but by your response to that exposure. Your emotional response to events does a number on your whole person.

Athletes and Stress
To fulfill your dreams, you must concentrate, expend energy, break new personal records, and perform on demand in precisely the same way that athletes do. You are an institutional athlete.

Institutional Athletes’ Needs
Institutional Athletes need to:

  • Deepen their capacity to tolerate stress of all kinds.
  • Increase their ability to respond to stress in ways that bring full performance potential within reach.

Balance is the foundation for Stress for Success.

Pressures Today
The pressure of life in institutional America today is more intense, demanding, and debilitating than ever before. It’s characterized by long hours, a constant need for high levels of concentration, endless pressure, and the ever-present threat of accomplishing more with less.


  • How many of you are concerned that the level of stress in you lives is so great that it is seriously threatening your health?
  • How many of you have no time for yourselves?
  • How many of you are too exhausted to truly enjoy your families when you are with them?
  • How many of you are feeling frustration, fear, and even anger about your job—and you future?
  • How many of you sleep eight hours a night? Six? Five?
  • How many of you feel you are being pushed to your absolute limit?
  • How many would have said the same thing a year ago today?
  • How many of you suspect you’ll feel the same way next year at this time?

What to do
The only way to survive – and thrive – in today’s workplace is not to get rid of stress but to deepen your capacity to handle stress. That can happen only by exposing yourself to new levels of stress, developing a new response to stress, and establishing a very special kind of mental, physical, and emotional balance. You need to transform the way you think, what you feel, and how you act.

  • How many of you are concerned that the level of stress in you lives is so great that it is seriously threatening your health?.
  • When do you get to sleep and wake up?
  • What is the quality of your sleep, and how many hours of sleep do you get each night?
  • How much time are you giving yourself for relaxation, play, and fun—the core elements of recovery?

You need to create a carefully balanced pattern of stress and recovery in all parts of your life – beginning with the basics of sleeping and eating.

Negative Vs. Positive Emotions
Optimal performance requires a capacity not only to understand one’s own emotional needs but to selectively summon specific feelings and set aside others. Your goal is to gain greater insight into your feelings so that you can exert more control over them – no matter how difficult the circumstances. People don’t perform well when they’re feeling angry, or tense, or fearful, or worried. Conversely, optimal performance is clearly correlated with specific positive emotions, such as calmness, relaxation, confidence, focus, and openness.

Visualization exercises, inspirational music, pre-performance rituals designed to anchor desired thoughts and feelings, positive forms of self talk, and physical postures help prompt the biochemistry of high performance.

Being an Institutional Athlete
To face the highest levels of pressure while performing at the height of your potential on the job, you have to know who you are. You are an institutional athlete and you have to begin to think like one. That means training every day, just like an Olympian, and learning how to:
1. Balance the stress in you life with equal doses of recovery.
2. Consciously cultivate the skills of performance so that you can summon your Ideal Performance State (IPS) on demand.

IPS = being “in the zone,” or “in flow,” a state typically free of conscious thinking, and it is characterized by feeling calm, confident, challenged, positively energized, relaxed, and capable of producing whatever a given situation demands.

On Demand
It is possible to access this state consciously whenever you need it. Just as you can increase your physical strength by lifting progressively heavier weights, so it is possible to systematically train your mind and emotions for the maximum Ideal Performance State.

Toughness Training
Balance. Making significant lifestyle changes. Eating better, losing weight, exercising more. Toughness training.

Where Are You?
Confront the truth about your own level of toughness. Where are you in terms of toughness – physically, mentally, and especially emotionally? Emotions run the show! ‘Emotion drives everything!

Factors of Emotional Toughness
Four Primary Factors of Emotional Toughness:
1. Emotional Flexibility – the ability to be open, expansive, and nondefensive in the face of crisis.
2. Emotional Responsiveness – during the heat and stress of institutional life, the emotionally responsive remain fully     connected and in touch with the forces around them.
3. Emotional Strength – under the greatest pressure, toughness is reflected in the ability to resist and exert great     positive force emotionally.
4. Emotional Resiliency – a sure sign of a tough person is his or her ability to bounce back from setbacks, losses, and     emotional hits quickly and easily, without being deterred from a goal.

Physiology Drives Behavior
The physiology behind emotion drives behavior. Anger mobilizes the body to attack, to use force, to strike out. Challenge mobilizes the body to engage, to pursue, to go after. Love mobilizes the body to nourish, to care for, to protect. Simply focusing on a mental image of something very sad in your life can trigger a cascade of powerful changes in the physical body.

$100 Exercise
Offer $100 to anyone in the group who can summon sadness in two minutes on command – with real tears of sadness. Ask for a show of hands of who thinks they can. You tell them “If you can’t, I get the $100.” Ask for “Another show of hands.” Tell them whoever wants to try should come up to the front. Repeat the challenge but remove the “I get the $100, if you can’t.” Have them smile before beginning the two minute countdown… It’s almost impossible to evoke sadness after smiling.

Ideal Performance State (IPS)
IPS mobilizes the body to express talent and skill within a performance context. IPS is the most intelligent and adaptive response one can have to most of the demands of institutional life.

Descriptors of IPS are:

  • Physically relaxed
  • Mentally calm
  • Fearless
  • Energized
  • Positive
  • Happy
  • Effortlessly automatic
  • Confident
  • Mentally focused and alert
  • Feeling in control
  • IPS is clearly a learned response. As soon as it occurs, feelings of pressure and distress disappear.

    Traumatic Events
    When traumatic events occur:

    • Never give up or surrender your spirit emotionally.
    • Take some kind of corrective action. Do something! Do anything! Taking action prevents feelings of helplessness from consuming you.
    • Attribute causes for the problems to factors within yourself that are changeable. Resist blaming others and resist exaggerating the hopelessness of the situation.
    • Attribute some important purpose to the struggle and crisis. “I’ll use this to correct personal weaknesses that have heeded addressing for a long time.

    Rituals are one of the most important tools you can use to achieve toughness as an institutional athlete.
    The 12 most important rituals:

    1. Sleep
    2. Exercise
    3. Nutrition
    4. Family
    5. Spirituality
    6. Preperformance
    7. Travel
    8. Telephone
    9. Office
    10. Creative time
    11. Home
    12. Time alone

    Acting Skills
    Acting skills can be used to control physiology. Each of us spends as much as 90 percent of our day modifying, filtering, and adjusting our emotions and behavior to fit what are considered to be the most appropriate scripts for particular moments – in other words, we are acting.

    An Amygdala Hijacking
    Once a signal is received by the amygdala and a specific emotion is turned on, response time can be as little as twelve one-thousandths (12/1000) of a second!
    We basically have four emotion-ON triggers:
    1. Real life occurrences.
    2. Make-believe experiences in the context of movies, TV, live theater, reading, and storytelling.
    3. Visualization of past or future events that are loaded with the emotions you are trying to summon.
    4. Movement of the physical body (posture, facial expression, and so on) in the targeted emotional direction.

    Mental Training
    Mental Training – The seven best approaches for:
    1. Changing beliefs through affirmations.
    2. Controlling negative thinking.
    3. Desensitizing fears.
    4. Writing.   5. Preparing with mental rehearsal.
    6. Practicing mental focus.
    7. Practicing positive thinking.

    Your mental preparation time should become a daily ritual, like brushing your teeth or having breakfast.

    How to “Stress for Success”
    What to do:
    1. Reorder your life so that the highest levels of health, happiness, and productivity are in fact attainable.
    2. Face the truth about your most profound weaknesses and make a commitment to do something concrete and tangible about them.
    3. Accept the reality that every day is a battle for control, not of the world around you but of your response to it.
    4. Increase your capacity to respond to the force of life in the most adaptive, emotionally intelligent ways possible.
    5. Connect what you do every day to your deepest and most enduring values and beliefs.
    6. Get comfortable with change – the only real constant of life.
    7. Acknowledge and respect the interconnectedness of all things.
    8. Realize that all time is sacred time.
    9. Fully acknowledge the importance and significance of past and future while understanding that life is lived to the fullest in the present.
    10. Full understand the connection between a sound mind and a sound body.
    11. Develop rituals in your life that keep you in rhythm with the world around you and enhance your ability to perform to your fullest potential in high-stress arenas.
    12. Structure your life to allow sufficient recovery time to adequately balance your high volume of stress.
    13. Acknowledge that emotions do in fact run the show.
    14. Learn to love the battle, all of it!

    “Be conscious of fun stuff. Be conscious of work stuff. Love them both and recover!”
    - author of “Stress for Success”

    Learn more about…

    Frank Ciecierski's Expert Author Email Alerts
    Sign up to receive email alerts of Frank Ciecierski's latest articles from!

    Email Address: