What would you pay to receive that one piece of information that promises to transform your life and eliminate stress entirely? Well, according to Dr. Richard Lazarus, a psychologist who was a professor at the University of California, Berkeley, you would do well to toss that information to the wolves.
The reason is that human beings need a certain amount of stress to propel themselves forward and continue growing. A life that is completely without stress is a life lived in a cardboard box on a secluded mountain.
Dr. Lazarus made the distinction between distress and eustress. Distress, he said, is what is commonly understood when people speak of stress: negative pressure that results from adverse circumstances. Eustress, on the other hand, is positive pressure, the kind of pressure that has allowed the great men and women of the past to produce wonderful works of art, overcome difficult sporting challenges, push through new projects to the end, endure great odds, and so on. Eustress is the kind of stress that you would feel when beginning a new job, moving to a new home, or entering a new relationship — a happy kind of stress that differs from what you would feel if you were to be made redundant, lose your home in a hurricane, or end a long-term relationship on unhappy terms.
Athletes speaking of being in the zone, a state of mind in which concentration is one-pointed and singular, excluding all concerns about the surrounding environment and narrowing the focus down to a straight trajectory between start and finish. Eustress would be the motive force that joins the two points. Without the force supplied by eustress, there is no desire, no passion, no compelling reason to move forward. The same principle applies not only on the track but also in everyday life. Without that motive force pushing you toward your goals, you would be like a leaf drifting wherever an outside force cares to take you.
Often it is possible to transmute distress into eustress simply by asking yourself the right questions. For example, when you are working extra hours to finance that brand new sports car, it is all too easy to forget why you are doing that to which you have committed yourself. Suddenly you get caught up in the nuisances of the present moment and lose sight of the bigger picture. Ask yourself “Why am I doing this? What is the outcome I hope to achieve?” If need be, you can carry around distinct reminders that will allow you to refocus your energies on the end goal. In the above example, inserting in your wallet a picture of the sports car that you wish to finance will provide you with the means to gain extra clarity during those moments of increased demand.
Another way to change the color of stress into something favorable is to develop back-up strategies. This technique usually goes by the name of contingency planning. Having a plan B available, and even a plan C if necessary, will provide you with a safety net on which you can fall if things get too far out of hand. Nothing causes distress like having only one way forward. Find the fork in the path.
Finally, avoid perfectionist thinking. The circle, considered by many to be the ultimate symbol of perfection, is ironically also a symbol of the fate that awaits you when you refuse to move forward because you are trying to perfect what you are currently doing. You will never break out of the circle of perfectionist thinking, and distress will build with each unfinished project.
By realizing that perfection is only an ideal and not a possible concrete reality, you can remove heavy loads of distress that are weighing you down in your work and instead strive for something that is more than good enough.