A Fresh Perspective of Stress

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What words would you use to describe, STRESS?  

Awful.  Bad.  Get Rid of It.  Don't Want It.

Let me offer a different perspective.

Stressors CARVE you out of our comfort zone.

They SPRING you to act.

They make you REACH for something better.

They DRIVE you to success.

Stressors MOTIVATE you to improve yourself, your conditions and our world!

Does it feel like our world sees stress as a productive force?

Let's re-frame it.

I'm going to geek out here a bit and dive into a physics perspective on stress.

STRESS – a Restoring Force Inside an Object Resulting from an Externally Applied Force

This definition reveals two gems:

#1.  Stress is a force INSIDE an object

We talk about being stressed by situations or people.  According to science, this is not a true statement.  Stress is your REACTION to an outside force applied on you.  You have external forces applied on you all the time.  Stop lights.  People cutting in front of you.  People cheering you on.  Tripping up stairs.  Shaking hands and hugs are literal external forces on your body.  Clearly, it's your reaction to these forces that defines Stress.


#2.  Stress is a RESTORING force

When you feel an external force which you feel knocks you out of your rhythm or equilibrium, you have a natural reaction to RESTORE your rhythm or equilibrium.  So….you push back.  

How hard you push back defines how much stress you feel.  If you're late for a meeting and that red light stops you, you feel anxiety, your blood rises and you get angry at …. the red light.  You know what, that red light yesterday was the same force.  You stopped.  Not bothered, were you?  

Bottom line:  YOU have power to define the amount of stress you feel by taking full responsibility for your reactions to any externally applied force.

Just sit on that a second and let me repeat.

You have power to define the amount of stress you feel by taking full responsibility for your reactions to ANY externally applied force.

Here's another A-Ha….

The level of your stress is defined by how rigid you push against that external force.  Lots of RIGIDITY.  Lots of stress.  Lots of FLUIDITY.  Very little stress.  

Think of RIGIDITY and FLUIDITY on opposite ends of a continuum.

Want to decrease stress?  Build FLUIDITY.  

I could get all geeky here with my Chemical Engineering background, but I'll leave that for a future topic or book.

For now, let's just focus on reducing your stress by becoming more FLUID.


Let me demonstrate with a lesson from Tai Chi.

Hold one end of a pencil.  It is not stressed.  You can wave it around.  It moves freely.

When you hold the other end, you applied an external force to the pencil.  Hand B became the Stressor on the pencil.

When you flex Hand B a bit, you have to grasp tighter with Hand A a bit more or the pencil goes flying, right?

If you hold both ends and flex both ends, WHERE is the stress in the pencil?

It's not in the ends!  The RESTORING FORCE / STRESS is in the middle of the pencil.

Going forward, you now have 5 options:

  1. Let go with Hand A – establishing a new equilibrium defined by Hand B
  2. Let go with Hand B – restoring the original equilibrium defined by Hand A
  3. Continue to hold stress on both ends – maintaining stress.  YUK!
  4. Increase force on both ends until the pencil breaks.  Where?  At the Stress Point.  This is like an escalating argument when no one wins.
  5. Let go with both Hand A and Hand B – pencil travels to a totally new universe not defined by Hand A or Hand B.  Novel approach to conflict management wouldn't you say?

Isn't it refreshing to know that whenever you feel stress, scientifically speaking there are always at least 5 OPTIONS!

I find this incredibly empowering and useful!

I applied this principle frequently in my consulting career.  I started every project knowing there would be a major conflict at some point.  Disagreements over budget, deadlines, scope, resources, designs, commitments, etc.

Keeping the environment FLUID was key to navigating to creative and productive results.  

  •  Challenge Deeply Held Assumptions
  •  Include Wildly Diverse Perspectives
  •  Envision Higher Purposes

I helped people break a lot more assumptions than pencils.  1000's to 1 ratio.

Reduce Stress.  Choose Fluidity.

And live 100% Empowered!


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