Lion sitting, looking away, Panthera Leo, 10 years old, isolated on white

We all have challenges in our lives. And some challenges create a rise in the stress hormone cortisol. So some might question if those challenges are good or bad for us. Well, the answer seems to be “it depends” based on how we deal with challenges!

A recent article by ATD called How Successful People Stay Calm gives us some great guidelines around challenging situations. It reviews a study on stress which highlights an optimal level of stress to produce an equally optimal performance. Optimal performance sounds great, doesn’t it?!

The key is a Goldilocks approach is to find the challenge’s sweet spot where the associated stress if not too much and not for too long.

Lion Vs. Extra Edge

Another way to think about this is in the form of fight or flight. If you opened the door to find a lion waiting on the other side, your cortisol would kick in and help you fight or run. But in our world, well, most of us just don’t have the luck of having lions for neighbors. This means we can use our cortisol to give us that like extra edge to do things like nail a presentation or create stellar work at mock speeds.

In order to hit that optimal performance and do really phenomenal work, top performers have 10 strategies to help keep that lion at bay and keep the challenge manageable.

10 Strategies Top Performers Deal with Challenges

1. They Appreciate What They Have

2. They Avoid Asking “What If?”

3. They Stay Positive

4. They Disconnect

5. They Limit Their Caffeine Intake

6. They Sleep

7. They Squash Negative Self-Talk

8. They Reframe Their Perspective

9. They Breathe

10. They Use Their Support System

While the list seems intuitive, I would encourage you to skim through the article for the full descriptions. Some of them had nuances I hadn’t considered. (I LOVE breaking assumptions and learning in the process—especially when it’s my own assumptions I’m breaking!) For example, in #1, doing the “right” thing reduces your stress hormone cortisol by 23%!

My Personal Lion

As I read through the list, I thought of the lion I had to face down last week. I had two project deadlines (one design document and one storyboard) that had landed on the same day. A co- worker approached me with lots of empathy and I responded with, “Don’t worry. It’s got to get done, so it will.” And while I didn’t know it at the time, instead of responding with fight or flight, I was already utilizing some of the 10 Strategies to turn my lion into optimal performance!

In hindsight, I key strategies I used were Avoiding “What If?” (#2) since I knew I couldn’t change my deadlines and Disconnect (#4) — I went completely off the grid for two days. Another strategy I used was planting myself at a coffee shop so I could be around other focused people (people in line for coffee have amazing focus and drive energy!).

Your Turn

When you are working through a project or coming up to a project deadline, how do you deal with your lion?