Stress narrows your focus

This article is part of a series called Things I learned by failing at Green Fox.

Stress is an interesting beast. I’d argue that some level of stress is beneficial, especially on the short run. It helps dealing with challenging situations, and can also improve your performance. But there is a price you pay.

Photo by Elisa Ventur on Unsplash

Stress is the tension you feel when you’re threatened. Your cortisol level increases. You’re more alert, your heart rate increased, and your body is ready to respond to the challenge.

Fight, Flight, Freeze, and Fawn

Our stress system is designed to avoid life or death situation with one of the automatic responses: Fight, Flight, Freeze, or Fawn (simplypsychology.org). This enabled us to survive.

You develop tunnel vision. Your only goal in the moment becomes overcoming the challenging situation, no matter what.

Stress as a Leader

You experience the same feeling of stress response as a leader on multiple occasions. A customer is unsatisfied. A key member of the team leaves. Delivery is stalled. Your boss in unhappy.

These situations can be severe, I know, but most of the time it’s not about life or death. Our body inappropriately activates the stress system to deal with these problems.

As you narrow down your focus to solve the problem at hand, you can easily loose sight of the bigger picture.

And this can cause bigger issues than the original one was.

As a Leader you must keep stress at bay

When you start to notice the symptoms’ of stress you must remind yourself that this is not a life or death situation (probably). One of the best techniques I use my self is asking the question:

What’s the worst thing that can happen?

And when I answer this question, my mind immediately starts to think about how I’d handle the worst case. Most probably you’ll realize that the even the worst case is manageable. The sun comes up the next day.

Taking a step back

It’s important that in this case you always take a step back, and start to think about the problem itself:

  • Why do we have this problem?
  • Why do we want to solve this problem?
  • If we go back to our original purpose, what’s the real problem we’re trying to solve?

Using these questions for yourself and on meeting will help open up the playing field again, and instead of just trying to solve one problem, you might end up realizing that you’re not dealing with a problem worth solving.