Stress: what to do when the going gets tough

Stress: what to do when the going gets toughRunning your own business can be stressful. Let’s face it — the buck stops with you. From getting new business to managing staff, not to mention getting the balance right between home and work, being a business owner is full of challenges as well as rewards. But don’t despair, stress is normal and the good news is that it can be managed and harnessed for good. Professor Graham Jones explains how

The ability to cope with what can seem like overwhelming change has never been more important. The first thing is that you’re not alone. Pressure is an inherent and incessant part of the modern business world.

End of stress

Pressure, though, does extraordinary things to people. It can crush your spirit or it can induce extraordinarily high performance. The key to being able to flourish under pressure is the development of mental toughness.

Mental toughness is the capacity to respond positively to multiple and sometimes conflicting pressures. Here are some pointers on how to develop and strengthen mental toughness:

1. Learn techniques for handling pressure

Being mentally tough doesn’t mean that you never feel stressed under pressure. On the contrary, everyone experiences stress at various times. The key is accepting that it is inevitable so you can then develop skills for handling the pressure.

Business professionals face a range of pressures, ranging from incessant client demands to the tough task of getting new business in a down economy. Here are some techniques to help you handle stress effectively:

  • Reframe negative thoughts. Realise that you have a choice about the way you think. Over-generalising and taking things personally are all negative thought patterns that, once identified, can be reframed into more constructive modes of thinking.
  • Manage the symptoms of stress. Stress can result in both behavioural and physical symptoms that are often difficult to manage. Relaxation techniques, such as deep breathing, visualising soothing imagery and taking meditation breaks, are extremely helpful in controlling these symptoms. It is also vital to identify physical factors that exacerbate symptoms of stress, such as not getting enough sleep, drinking too much caffeine or not eating properly.
  • Identify the things you can’t control. There are some things that are out of your control. Accepting this allows you to control the amount and the nature of the pressure you feel from conflicting sources. Frequently, though, people make the mistake of believing that many of their workplace issues and performance targets are out of their control. These assumptions can be challenged.

2. Develop your self-belief

Self-belief is an essential element in the makeup of the world’s best performers in business, sports and more. It underpins the ability to set and achieve goals, take risks, control fear and learn from mistakes — all of which are key components of being a successful business person. Here are some strategies to build your self-belief:

  • Highlight your skills and abilities. These are the reasons you have risen to where you are in life, although in tough times people sometimes overlook their accomplishments. Listing your skills illustrates your professional and personal successes. These can serve as building blocks for strengthening belief in yourself.
  • Believe you can achieve your goals. Goals that are realistic and stretching motivate you to achieve your performance expectations. But it’s also important to focus on the individual steps that will lead to each goal, as focusing solely on the ultimate outcome can add to pressure. Step-by-step goals allow you to perform well and also show that you are achieving things even if the ultimate goal is not reached.

3. Maintain focus on what matters

Top performers can deal with many distractions while maintaining focus on the things that matter. This involves accepting that there are factors in the performance environment you cannot influence so that you can focus on the things you can control. But it also requires the following:

  • Focus on processes. High-level performance is about getting the process right. Accordingly, the key is to keep your sights targeted on the steps necessary to close a deal. Focusing on the process will allow the outcome to take care of itself.
  • Focus on the positives. Negative thoughts — about past failures, doubts about your ability or worrying about the consequences of not closing today’s deal — can all hinder performance. Focus on personal strengths and the positive aspects of your role.

4. Make your motivation work for you

Ultimately, skills and abilities alone are not enough to guarantee high performance under pressure. The mentally tough are able to bounce back because they stay motivated despite sustained pressures. Extrinsic motivation, such as pay and reward, can be a source of motivation for many. But research shows that internal motivation and job satisfaction increases enjoyment and reduces pressure.

Life in the dynamic and unpredictable business world means that sometimes things will not go according to plan but, in order to succeed, individuals must be motivated and be able to sustain performance during times of stress.

The bottom line is that successful people are energised and exhilarated by what they do, rather than being desperate to succeed because they fear the consequences of failure. 

Professor Graham Jones is the founder of TOP Performance Consulting and the author of Thrive On Pressure: Lead and Succeed When Times Get Tough.

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