While going for a 10 km run in shorts in -10 degrees celsius would distress most people, for Wim “The Iceman” Hof it might be considered a walk in the park – maybe it doesn’t even register as eustress.
So what does stress mean to you?
To almost everyone, stress has a negative connotation to it. It is often confused with distress. When in reality it’s neither good or bad. A better term for stress is challenge.
I will tackle a challenge differently from you, but it’s our current level that determines whether it’s a positive (eustress) or a negative challenge (distress).
What most don’t realise is that we thrive off eustress! Growth takes place when you are continuously challenged but have the time to recover in between. Progress happens when you’re challenged, it’s the point where you feel excited and improve.
Stress then, is simple. It’s a challenge. And it’s up to you how you respond to the challenge.
- 70 hour work weeks? That’s stressful.
- Working a job where you don’t know if your boss will let you go tomorrow? Stress.
- Your washing machine broke down and caused water damage to all your belongings? More stress.
- Someone in your family is sick? Definitely stressing your body.
It is said that life is a series of circumstances. And some of these things are out of our control. However, what most people overlook are the day-to-day habits and aspects of health they don’t know about.
- Continually sitting all day long? Stressor. Sit properly and take breaks.
- How about standing all day? Static positions are stressful in general. Lying in bed all day? Static. And it’s even considered harmful if you’ve got low back pain.
- Got to bed after 10 pm OR looking at a screen right before bed time? Yes, add to the stress pile.
- Eating many small meals throughout the day? We cannot go without food, but too much food is considered stress for you digestive tract.
- Drinking juice from the supermarket? That’s all sugar, absorbs super quick and stresses the hell out of your pancreas.
- Using exercise machines instead of free weights? It’ll create muscle imbalance which is stress.
- The nature of the challenge
- Eating sugar is almost inherently bad for you
- Walking from the sofa to the kitchen is not considered a challenge for most of us
- Your current level of whatever is being challenged
- Is it your first time public speaking?
- Or are you a high profile polititian and you’ve done it more times than you can count?
- The level of the challenge: size, time, frequency…
- Are you talking to a crowd of 5 or 1000?
- Are you talking for 30 seconds or 30 minutes?
- Are you doing one talk or numerous talks over a weekend?
- Time where not engaging with the challenge
- Do you have 3 minutes between gigs, or 3 days?
For it to be a good challenge, I believe it is crucial you disengage from it. Everyone works best with cycles of challenges and no-challenges. It’s the contrast that instigates positive change. Move-rest. Awake-sleep. Eat-fast. Together-alone…you get the picture?
A challenge comes along…
- Exciting. You improve.
- The same challenge comes along. Boring. No improvement.
- Next, a crazy challenge comes along. You’re anxious and it might even be detrimental.
Obviously, doing a talk for 100 people will be easier the second time. To keep improving the challenge needs to increase in proportion to your current level. And I’m paraphrasing Jamie Wheal when I say that, to hit the sweet spot, you need the challenge to be ~10% harder than your current level.
If you pay attention you’ll notice the cycles are present all around you. And you can use the cycles to reshape the growth plateau to an upward eustress spiral of success.
TL;DR for great performance and growth you need endless good challenges. How you recognise a good challenge…
- Boring – not challenging enough
- Anxious – too challenging
- Excited – sweet spot
- … and it’s important to get complete time off from the challenge
Go out there and embrace infinite eustress!