Someone approaching the microphone for the speech of their life or taking the court for the NBA championship will experience a healthy rush. In times like those, pressure is our friend providing increased drive, focus and intensity. This good pressure is called eustress and is vital to growth and productivity for individuals, teams and companies.
Eustress thrives just beyond the comfortable. Creating this special kind of stress requires expanding comfort zones and cultivating constructive beliefs, while avoiding distress. Distress is eustress’s red-in-the-face, unreasonable cousin. It’s the one who, rather than giving you the drive to approach a difficult situation, makes you want to sit in the corner and cry.
Comfort zones don't stay the same size over the long term. They shrink if we stay always within them but expand if expand when we step sufficiently beyond the boundaries. That’s what athletes’ vigorous training is all about, no pain, no gain. It’s always about stretching their muscles, their endurance, their skills and their knowledge. The rush they feel as they’re about to play in front of a crowd of dedicated fans also provides eustress, getting them to go harder and to play better.
Our world is competitive. To win we need the same mindset as star athletes and set small, bite-sized goals. Playground ballers don’t magically wake up as NBA professionals. They set goals and stretch their comfort zones, just as we must. To use eustress to your advantage, pick a small goal in a particular area. Once your comfort zones have expanded to fit a new behavior, move on to the next area for growth. Aim to make your comfort zone 20 percenr bigger at each step. No more (you’ll burn out) and no less (you’ll settle). If you pace yourself, then you’ll make it to the end of the race as a winner.
Creating eustress requires personal responsibility and ownership. Believing we don’t have control over our destiny (or that we have to depend on luck) causes distress and leads to a limited mentality. On the other hand, when we believe success is in our own hands, eustress drives our behaviors toward success.
Remember, people aren’t born with their beliefs, their beliefs are formed through experiences. We can’t grow without moving outside the “area of possibility” our comfort zones have determined. On the other hand, celebrating and developing the right beliefs and behaviors leads to the right results.
Encourage the right beliefs whenever possible. If you see a positive result, go back a step and congratulate yourself, your peers or your employees on the behaviors that led to that result. Instead of saying, “Great job on making the sale,” say, “Great job following the sales process and training with such diligence!” The latter feedback connects the behaviors the sales pro has done to achieve the sale and the sale itself, while the former only acknowledges the result.
Creating a “eustressing” environment for ourselves and our companies means providing a safe place for people to stumble as they explore new territory, while also rewarding the behaviors and beliefs that lead to long-term success. Let’s break outside our comfort zones, embrace the pressure and rush the court.