3 Strategies for Success Under Stress

3 Strategies for Success Under Stress

By: Sharon Melnick
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Sharon Melnick, PhD & Author of Success Under Stress

Tuesday, November 24, 2015 - 9:15am

CAMPAIGN: Quality of Life Content Series


Welcome to the New Normal: The average business professional has 30-100 projects on their plate, is interrupted 7x/hour, and unlocks their phone 110 times a day.   We are pressured to ‘innovate or stagnate’ amidst constant change.

Time famine is the prevailing experience, with the struggle to define boundaries between ‘On’ and ‘Off’ causing sleeplessness in 70 million Americans.   Work-life balance has become the primary concern of both working men and women, and the very relationships (at work or home) that could buffer stress get worn down.

And yet resilience is a core competency for high performance. 71% of senior executives say it is a trait they look for in whom to retain and promote. When resilience improves, so does engagement, productivity and retention.  To retain women leaders specifically, the #1 thing women want at work is to “flourish.”  Put more precisely, they want to have more control and experience physical and emotional well-being.

How can one get ahead to have success under stress?

We only experience ‘stress’ when there are aspects of situations that feel out of our control.  The more you can control, the less stress you will experience.  The Golden Rule of Resilience is “Be Impeccable for your 50%” – in other words to be effective at ‘controlling what you can control’.

It’s not about ‘stress management,’ it’s about ‘self-management.’  There are always 3 domains in which you can have control: Your PhysiologyYour Psychology, and Your Problem Solving.   As you practice a self-management toolkit you can greatly reduce stress that interferes with your goals, and cope with challenges to preserve your wellbeing.

Here are three examples of how to apply the “50% Rule”: Be Impeccable for your 50%:

Control Your Physiology – Our nervous system has an “On” button that gives energy and focus, and an “Off” button that gives calm and rejuvenation. We are unbalanced, tending to use only our “On” button.  However, when you schedule your day with periods of a “Sprint” (all-out concentration) followed by a brief period of “Recovery” (detachment and rejuvenation) you have steady focus throughout the day as opposed to overwhelm, and you have more energy for the night.  Your takeaway:  take a 1-3 minute mid- morning and mid-afternoon mental vacation.   [Women: you are 35% less likely than men to ‘take a break’ so heed this research!]

Control Your Psychology – How many thoughts does an average human being have a day?  Scientists say 60,000!  From surveying over 10,000 people in my corporate trainings, a majority of professionals feel their thoughts are chaotic, and derail from getting results.  Organizing one’s thoughts around a single purpose reduces the cognitive load on the brain.  Rather than focusing on all the factors one can’t control, focus on what you can control: who YOU show up as. So…define “who do YOU need to be” in order to forge the results you want. For example, you might want to be a “Poised Change Agent” or “Calm, Confident Leader.” Then make each of your thoughts in the service of displaying the qualities of that person.

Once you consistently show up as the person you want to be, you see progress and others respond to support your success.  This mindset shifts you away from reactivity and toward intentionality.

Teams benefit from this intentionality too.  Team members can define an “Ideal Day” or the kind of culture they want.  When each person takes responsibility for their 50% contribution to that end goal, a team culture can change overnight!

Control Your Problem-Solving – Most people crave more uninterrupted time to think.  You CAN’T control other people’s interruptions, crises, or ad hoc requests… but you CAN control your responses to them.   Given that it takes 11-23 minutes to reset each interruption, it’s worth your while to control these distractions.  If you have recurring interruptions you can anticipate and problem-solve them away. You can bundle your availability into ‘office hours’, or have clearer criteria for when you will triage versus get deeply involved in requests.   Or what if you designated ‘time to think’ and then built your schedule around it?

There are so many more factors within our control than we currently focus on. When you are Impeccable for your 50%, you reduce the time and energy drained on matters out of your control, thus increasing productivity and engagement.  Regardless of formal role, anyone in an organization can be a role model for resilience.

Want to know if you are showing Resilience? Take this assessment.


Sharon Melnick, Ph.D. is a leading authority on stress resilience and women’s leadership and the author of the acclaimed book Success Under Stress.  She recently spoke at the Better Tomorrow Summit in Atlanta on how to stay productive, collaborative, and innovative during times of change.