Making Stress Work for You

By Jason Forrest, an EO Fort Worth member and Chief Sales Officer of Forrest Performance Group.

Muscles grow when they’re stressed, but stress them too far and you’ll suffer a tear. That special place between distress and your comfort zone is called eustress, and it’s vital to individuals’ and companies’ growth and productivity. The ideal environment for eustress is just beyond the comfort zone. To make stress work for you, make sure you’re expanding comfort zones while avoiding distress and cultivating a growth mindset. Here’s how you can do just that.

To create eustress, expand comfort zones. No one’s comfort zone stays the same size over time. If we stay inside our comfort zone, it shrinks. If we step outside of it enough, it expands to re-encompass us. That’s just the way comfort zones work. Athletes are continuously aware of the principle of eustress. That’s what their vigorous training is all about— no pain, no gain. For athletes, it’s always about stretching— stretching their muscles, their endurance, their skills and their knowledge to keep improving. They know that if they stop training, they will fall back very quickly. The sports world is too competitive for them to let that happen.

As entrepreneurs, our world is competitive, too, and in order to keep winning, we need to have the same mindset as a star athlete. To prevent distress, avoid setting goals that are too far out. Instead, create eustress by setting small, bite-sized goals toward the larger ones and focusing on the present and the things you can control. Start with one area you want to improve. Once complete (or once comfort zones have expanded to fit a new behavior), move on to the next one. Aim to make your comfort zone 20% 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.

A growth mindset is vital for creating eustress because it puts responsibility into each individuals’ hands and gives them an ownership mindset. Distress is caused when people do not believe they have control over their destiny, when they think that the only way to change their lot in life is to get a winning lottery ticket or just to “get lucky.” Believing life is in the hands of karma or the sales gods is distressing and leads to a fixed mindset, lottery mentality. On the other hand, eustress is created when people believe that their success is in their own hands and invest in themselves, their beliefs and training. A growth mindset says, “What I am currently doing equals what I am currently getting. If I improve what I am currently doing, then I will improve what I am getting.” This leads to eustress and personal growth.

Whether you’re an individual, a sales leader or a company leader, remember that people aren’t born with their beliefs. They are formed throughout our life experiences. We use our knowledge within the comfort zone of our beliefs and without moving outside the “area of possibility,” we can’t grow. One way to grow is to encourage and adapt a growth mindset. In sales, we can do that by celebrating the process even if it hasn’t yet resulted in a sale; whatever department we’re in, the principle is the same. If we celebrate the right beliefs and behaviors, the right results will follow.

Practice encouraging the right beliefs whenever possible. For example, if you see a positive result, go back a step and congratulate yourself, your peers or your employee on the behavior that led to that result. For example, instead of saying “Great job on making the sale,” say, “Great job on following the sales process and executing your training with such diligence!” The latter feedback makes the connection between the behaviors the sales pro has done to achieve the sale and the sale itself, while the former only acknowledges the result.

The danger in just focusing on the result is that it might get immediate results, but it confuses the sales professional about what is important. If only the result is important, then they may resort to unethical practices at worst or just sloppy selling. Either way, it will also cost sales in the future because “hang in there” is one of the worst things you can say if you want to create growth mindsets. It does the opposite— encouraging a fixed mindset that inadvertently cripples people by promoting the belief that results have nothing to do with efforts.

Creating a “eustressing” (rather than distressing) environment (whether for ourselves or 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. A company where growth mindsets are the norm and comfort zones are meant to expand is a stimulating, life-changing, comfort zone-expanding place indeed.

Jason is a sales trainer, management coach, member of the National Speakers Association’s Million Dollar Speakers Group and author of Creating Urgency in a Non-Urgent Housing Market, 40-Day Sales Dare for New Home Sales and Leadership Sales Coaching.

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4 Responses to “ Making Stress Work for You ”

  1. Elvis Vargas on

    Hi Jason,
    We actually met once, I’m glad we did. Anyways, I’m 19 and tired of living my life from my comfort zone. You get into a routine, and do it over and over. Then one day you’re so tired because of the life you created for yourself and want to create a more abundant and fulfilling life, but scared to push and stretch your comfort zone. You did a great job, and I really appreciate you posting this article. Now, time to expand!
    Thanks.

    Reply
  2. Anon on

    Sorry, but this is wrong.

    The concept of eustress was developed by pioneering researcher Hans Selye in the middle of the 20th Century – unfortunately, this part of his theory didn’t stand up to later research.

    According to another key researcher, Richard Lazarus, “stress” is about the perception that you don’t have the physical or mental resources needed to meet the challenges you face. By definition, it’s an unpleasant thing, and you can’t perform better by increasing stress – all you do is get unhappier.

    “Pressure” is an entirely different thing – one of the longest standing ideas in this area is the “Inverted U” model (Yerkes & Dodson, 1908) which says that there’s a sweet spot in terms of pressure at which you perform your best. This lies part way between low pressure (where you’re bored and can’t be bothered) and high pressure (where you fall to pieces). There’s an art to managing pressure so that you can stay in this sweet spot.

    Please, please don’t make the eustress mistake – it leads managers to be unpleasant with people, increasing the stress they experience in the belief that this will increase performance. It won’t – you’ll just end up with a lawsuit.

    Sure, increase *pressure* if people are unmotivated, but also take it off if they’re over-stressed. That’s the way to get people to perform.

    Reply

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