Recently, I was talking with one of our clients and he shared a great story about what he learned from Tignum and how it changed the way he feels about and approaches stress. As a scientist by training (a PhD biochemist and specialist in neuroscience, and cardiovascular and metabolic disease), nobody knows better than him about the biochemical cascade that occurs when the human body is under stress. The body recognizes physical or emotional stress, and the adrenal cortex increases the release of the stress hormone cortisol. As the sympathetic nervous system is engaged, the adrenal glands release the powerful stimulants epinephrine and norepinephrine. From here the body is hardwired to react in one of three ways: fight, flight, or freeze.
If you ever take a stress management course, or pick up the Sunday paper and look in the health section, you will surely hear again and again about the detrimental impact of stress. Often the discussion is about avoiding stress, reducing stress, or taking a nice stress-free vacation (as if such a thing exists). When we work with clients, we reframe the problem as not being the overload of stress, but rather the under-utilization of consistent (bi-hourly) recovery. We call this strategy Oscillation, and we have talked about this in several previous blogs. In this blog, I don’t want to rehash the necessity of Oscillation but rather to talk about the fourth option that high-performing humans have under stress.
Before Tignum, our clients (along with all other human beings) had experienced the 3 common outcomes of stress: fighting (getting angry and agitated), fleeing (going into avoidance or just flat out leaving), and freezing (locking up with tension and just hoping to become invisible). The story my above-mentioned client shared with me was how he now knows how to take another path (the fourth option): High Performance. So what is the key to shifting your response away from the million year old evolutionary response to this new response?
The biggest key to allowing high stress to create High Performance is strategic (purposefully designed) preparation. By recognizing the stress of the situation, and then creating images of yourself performing at the highest level, you give your brain and your body a different direction to go when it perceives stress. Imagine yourself up in front of the board. You are about to deliver terrible news that the product you promised will not only be delayed, it will be a failure. The time and money that you fought so hard for will be a waste. What do you feel? More than likely you feel that pit in your stomach, that tension in your neck and back, that lump in your throat, and that urge to explode that we are all hard-wired to experience. But what if…....
Now imagine the same situation, but you have diligently prepared yourself through Mindset, Nutrition, Movement, and Recovery strategies. You have used your equal breathing to get into your optimal performance state and stimulate your right brain. You have eaten a small meal full of brain nutrition and calming foods (omega-3 fatty acids, B Vitamins, complex carbohydrates, nervines, etc.). You did some rhythmic full-body movements that required balance and stabilization to create proper posture and optimal brain performance. And finally, you visualized yourself delivering the news, engaging the tough questions, being authentic, being emotionally intelligent, and most of all creating new solutions by connecting all the possibilities that are coming from the room. Now imagine yourself letting go of all of your expectations and emotions, and letting your best performance happen.
You can change the scenario (I made this one up), but the key is that with the right strategies you can take a fourth, and often unknown, path when you’re under stress. When you design your High Performance, suddenly new solutions occur that previously never surfaced. Even more important, when you learn that this option exists, and you practice High Performance preparation strategies, stress doesn’t become the problem. It may actually become the stimulus for great performance.
As always, I’d love to hear what you think.
By Scott Peltin
Founder & Chief Performance Officer