Vanessa Vershaw (lead image) is the founder of Reinvention Consulting and author of Unreasonable Ambition: Renegade thinking for leaders to create impossible change. In this guest post, Vershaw talks the seemingly impossible – turning work stress into great creative…
A recent study from Bendelta evaluated the mindsets, behaviours and skillsets of some of the world’s most successful leaders and found that creativity to be one of the greatest predictors of success. It’s a non-negotiable gift we need to access to lead in a world where nothing is certain and, the ability to come up with new ways of thinking helps us to level up and drive competitive advantage at work.
One of the most powerful ways to enhance creative thinking is to draw upon then energy that comes from positive stress to spark up ingenuity and novel ways to problem solve -and it isn’t a new thing. Contrary to popular belief, not all stress is bad for you. Happy stress, known as ‘eustress’ is a positive form of stress that is brought on by exciting or stimulating events. It causes a chemical response in the body akin to the feeling of euphoria.
Psychologists have known for decades that learning to make friends with your happy stress and be able leverage it’s benefits will boost your creativity and motivation, as well as supercharge your performance at work. Think of the recent Boston Marathon –40,000 elite athletes gathering together annually from every corner of the globe to run 40kms in pouring rain and nail-biting cold. Are they masochists or does method exist in the madness? Or what about the author who is experiencing writer’s block? How do they move from word ‘drought’ to penning a potential literary masterpiece that changes the world?
For the runners’ drawing on their happy stress powers them up to make it to the finish line even amidst challenging weather conditions. For the author, the pressure of an impending deadline (not a life-threatening situation) provides them with the necessary surge of energy to break through a temporary creative block and bias for procrastination to create a brilliant piece of writing. Here are some simple ways for you to start divining into your wells of happy stress:
Reframe your on view stress
We’ve been brainwashed to believe that all stress is bad for us so it isn’t your fault. Stress has been given a bad rap. It’s because it is often confused with distress or burnout. Reframing your perspective on it and learning to identify the difference between negative stress (I am in danger and/or my life is being threatened) from positive stress (I am being challenged) is a big step toward flourishing.
Embrace the suck
Research into the mindsets of highly successful people shows that they confront reality head on, deal with the fear that is often attached to it and move quickly through to get their minds to a productive belief that they have what it takes to figure things out. Admitting that you don’t have all the answers and seeking out support from others to work through a seemingly insurmountable obstacle plays a huge part in building new habits around this.
Lose your ego
One of the biggest blockers to seeing the opportunities that come with tackling difficult situations or not knowing how to navigate them is ego. It’s a particular challenge for technical leaders who have been trained in absolutes and not to dance in ambiguity. Their tendency to reach into their technical bag of tricks fails them in situations they have never seen before. Their need to be in control and feel a sense of mastery blocks them from coping with stress that comes with not knowing. By adopting the mindset of a learner (“I know that I do not know but I am willing to find out”), stress is quickly replaced with curiosity and narrow problem-solving with creative thinking.
Know your triggers
Being acutely conscious of what triggers your stress is the first step to channeling it. Think about the current stressors in your life and your level of control. What is in your control and what is out of your control? Make a list – and here is the tip – your only focus is on working through what you have control over and making different decisions about how to manage it e.g., you current work situation is causing anxiety and you have lost passion for the role. You are making a choice to stay there. Proactively start exploring opportunities to move on and get ready for departure.
The bottom line is that you decide whether to let stress level you or not. Seeing situations for what they really are and learning to be mentally energised by difficulty will increase your ability to think critically and unearth ingenuity to flourish in the new world of work.
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