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How Successful People Stay Calm by Dr. Travis Bradberry


The ability to manage your emotions and
remain calm under pressure has a direct
link to your performance. TalentSmart has
conducted research with more than a
million people, and we’ve found that 90% of
top performers are skilled at managing their
emotions in times of stress in order to
remain calm and in control.
If you follow our newsletter, you’ve read
some startling research summaries that
explore the havoc stress can wreak on one’s
physical and mental health (such as the Yale
study , which found that prolonged stress
causes degeneration in the area of the brain
responsible for self-control). The tricky thing
about stress (and the anxiety that comes
with it) is that it’s an absolutely necessary
emotion. Our brains are wired such that it’s
difficult to take action until we feel at least
some level of this emotional state. In fact,
performance peaks under the heightened
activation that comes with moderate levels
of stress. As long as the stress isn’t
prolonged, it’s harmless.


Research from the University of California,
Berkeley, reveals an upside to experiencing
moderate levels of stress. But it also
reinforces how important it is to keep stress
under control. The study, led by post-
doctoral fellow Elizabeth Kirby, found that
the onset of stress entices the brain into
growing new cells responsible for improved
memory. However, this effect is only seen
when stress is intermittent. As soon as the
stress continues beyond a few moments into
a prolonged state, it suppresses the brain’s
ability to develop new cells.
“I think intermittent stressful events are
probably what keeps the brain more alert,
and you perform better when you are
alert,” Kirby says. For animals, intermittent
stress is the bulk of what they experience,
in the form of physical threats in their
immediate environment. Long ago, this was
also the case for humans. As the human
brain evolved and increased in complexity,
we’ve developed the ability to worry and
perseverate on events, which creates
frequent experiences of prolonged stress.
Besides increasing your risk of heart
disease, depression, and obesity, stress
decreases your cognitive performance.
Fortunately, though, unless a lion is chasing
you, the bulk of your stress is subjective
and under your control. Top performers
have well-honed coping strategies that they
employ under stressful circumstances. This
lowers their stress levels regardless of
what’s happening in their environment,
ensuring that the stress they experience is
intermittent and not prolonged.
While I’ve run across numerous effective
strategies that successful people employ
when faced with stress, what follows are
ten of the best. Some of these strategies
may seem obvious, but the real challenge
lies in recognizing when you need to use
them and having the wherewithal to actually
do so in spite of your stress.
They Appreciate What They Have
Taking time to contemplate what you’re
grateful for isn’t merely the “right” thing to
do. It also improves your mood, because it
reduces the stress hormone cortisol by 23%.
Research conducted at the University of
California, Davis found that people who
worked daily to cultivate an attitude of
gratitude experienced improved mood,
energy, and physical well-being. It’s likely
that lower levels of cortisol played a major
role in this.
They Avoid Asking “What If?”
“What if?” statements throw fuel on the fire
of stress and worry. Things can go in a
million different directions, and the more
time you spend worrying about the
possibilities, the less time you’ll spend
focusing on taking action that will calm you
down and keep your stress under control.
Calm people know that asking “what if? will
only take them to a place they don’t want—
or need—to go.
They Stay Positive
Positive thoughts help make stress
intermittent by focusing your brain’s
attention onto something that is completely
stress-free. You have to give your
wandering brain a little help by consciously
selecting something positive to think about.
Any positive thought will do to refocus your
attention. When things are going well, and
your mood is good, this is relatively easy.
When things are going poorly, and your
mind is flooded with negative thoughts, this
can be a challenge. In these moments, think
about your day and identify one positive
thing that happened, no matter how small.
If you can’t think of something from the
current day, reflect on the previous day or
even the previous week. Or perhaps you’re
looking forward to an exciting event that
you can focus your attention on. The point
here is that you must have something
positive that you’re ready to shift your
attention to when your thoughts turn
They Disconnect
Given the importance of keeping stress
intermittent, it’s easy to see how taking
regular time off the grid can help keep your
stress under control. When you make
yourself available to your work 24/7, you
expose yourself to a constant barrage of
stressors. Forcing yourself offline and even
—gulp!—turning off your phone gives your
body a break from a constant source of
stress. Studies have shown that something
as simple as an email break can lower
stress levels.
Technology enables constant communication
and the expectation that you should be
available 24/7. It is extremely difficult to
enjoy a stress-free moment outside of work
when an email that will change your train of
thought and get you thinking (read:
stressing) about work can drop onto your
phone at any moment. If detaching yourself
from work-related communication on
weekday evenings is too big a challenge,
then how about the weekend? Choose
blocks of time where you cut the cord and
go offline. You’ll be amazed at how
refreshing these breaks are and how they
reduce stress by putting a mental recharge
into your weekly schedule. If you’re worried
about the negative repercussions of taking
this step, first try doing it at times when
you’re unlikely to be contacted—maybe
Sunday morning. As you grow more
comfortable with it, and as your coworkers
begin to accept the time you spend offline,
gradually expand the amount of time you
spend away from technology.
Read the complete story HERE.


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