Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Stress Is Not Your Enemy

Harvard Business Review:
... Subjecting yourself to stress is the only way to systematically get stronger — physically, emotionally, mentally and spiritually. And you'll get weaker if you don't.
... The real enemy is our failure to balance stress with intermittent rest. Push the body too hard for too long — chronic stress — and the result will indeed be burnout and breakdown. But subject the body to insufficient stress, and it will weaken and atrophy.
Few of us push ourselves nearly hard enough to realize our potential, nor do we rest, sleep, and renew nearly as deeply or for as long as we should.
Strength Training
Strength Training (Photo credit: Rtist MrB)
This is easiest to see at the physical level. In the absence of regular cardiovascular exercise ... the heart's ability to efficiently pump blood drops an average of 1 percent a year between the ages of 30 and 70, and faster after that. Likewise, in the absence of strength training ... we lose an average of 1 percent of lean muscle mass every year after age 30.
But those effects can be dramatically reversed, even very late in life. In one of a series of studies, a group of nursing home residents with an average age of 87 were put on a strength training program 3 times a week for 45 minutes a session. They were given plenty of time to rest between sets and to recover between sessions. On average, they more than doubled their strength in just ten weeks.
The principle is simple, but not entirely intuitive. The harder you push yourself, the more you signal your body to grow. It's called supercompensation, and the growth actually occurs during recovery. The limiting factor is mostly your tolerance for discomfort.
Mind Control
Mind Control (Photo credit: jurvetson)
Think for a moment about attention. Absorbed [focus] lies at the heart of great performance. Unfortunately, our minds have minds of their own — they flit from thought to thought. It's also more difficult than ever to stay focused in this digital age. ...
Training your mind operates by the same principle as training your body. By focusing on one thing for a defined period of time ... you're subjecting your attention to stress.
As your mind wanders, the challenge is to return your focus ... . Effectively, you're training control of your attention. The more intensely you practice, even for short increments of time, the stronger you'll get.
The alternative is shallowness. So much of what we do all day long requires little real effort, but yields only the most fleeting gratification. ...
Completing a challenging piece of work, or a tough workout, or an intellectually demanding book, frees us to truly savor and enjoy the period afterwards — to experience time off not as slacking but as a fully earned opportunity for restoration.
Most of us instinctively run from discomfort, but struggle equally to value rest and renewal. We operate instead in a gray zone, rarely fully engaged and rarely deeply relaxed.
What practice could you add to your life to regularly push beyond your comfort zone — and then deliberately renew? Increasing the amplitude of your wave — from intense effort to deep renewal — is the surest path to a more fully realized life.
Tony Schwartz


Tony Schwartz is the president and CEO of The Energy Project and the author of Be Excellent at Anything. Become a fan of The Energy Project on Facebook and connect with Tony at and
Enhanced by Zemanta