It’s Not Stress That Kills Us, It is Our Reaction to It
June 4, 2018 Written by: W.B. “Bud” Kirchner
This article is the second in the series. It is a follow-up to “I’ve lived through some terrible things in my life, some of which actually happened.” ― Mark Twain.
The obvious question arising as a result of these alarming results I reported on previously: What is a businessperson (any person) to do? The obvious (but impossible) solution is to avoid stress. Alternatively – could a businessperson (or anyone) deal with it effectively?
“One of the symptoms of an approaching nervous breakdown is the belief that one’s work is terribly important.” – Bertrand Russell
Needless to say, the scientific and even more so the popular press spend a lot of time on stress. Let’s look at a couple iconoclastic initiatives that have surfaced:
First – in 2015 Kelly McGonigal (The Upside of Stress: Why Stress Is Good for You, and How to Get Good at It) published (and supported with a Ted Talk) the proposition that there was an upside to stress.
In a nutshell, McGonigal premise is that stress can only hurt you if you believe in it.
Quickly, criticism surfaced around her thesis. (MIND Reviews “The Upside of Stress”) and (The Upside of Stress…Not Really…a partial book review)
The latter’s criticism is summed up:
“Namely, once you “cognitively reframe” stress as a challenge or opportunity, you are no longer speaking about stress — you are in fact speaking about a different psychological construct: “challenge,” so naturally different responses —mental, physical, and behavioral occur.”
In summing up Weisinger’s criticism: I understand there to be no disputing an individual can deal with stress but in fact it is more of a matter of “cognitive appraisal”. Seems (to a layman) to be some hair splitting but I believe both sides should agree with Gandhi:
“There is more to life than increasing its speed.”
Moving ahead a couple years, Carol Dweck (Mindset: The New Psychology of Success) explained things from the perspective of your mindset.
Her premise is that of fixed vs. growth mindset – the following is a summary based on a review: (10 Big Ideas from Mindset: The New Psychology of Success)
- “With the fixed inset, unless you win, you lose. But with the growth mindset, the journey is the reward, even when things don’t go as planned.”
- “In a fixed mindset, people believe their basic qualities, like their intelligence or talent are simply fixed traits. In a growth mindset, people believe that their most basic abilities can be developed.”
- “Instead of depending on luck or “natural” talent, you focus on developing your skills and abilities, and learning from your efforts.”
“Your mindset matters. It affects everything–from the business and investment decisions you make, to the way you raise your children, to your stress levels and overall well-being.” – Peter Diamandis
Again these ideas were not without critics. Read for example (Is Mindset Theory Really In Trouble?).
As is so often the case with “pop psychology” controversy, it seems to have a lot to do with the oversimplification of ideas inherent in the popular press (and blogs like this). Clearly, the mindset concepts have been relevant to recent trends such as ‘Grit’ (Passion: Part Two – How to get Intimate with Your Passion)
“If you treat every situation as a life and death matter, you’ll die a lot of times.” – Dean Smith
High on the list of support for Dweck’s thesis was Bill Gates who praised her solution based approach and reiterated her message: “They believe a person’s true potential is unknown (and unknowable); that it’s impossible to foresee what can be accomplished with years of passion, toil, and training.” (What You Believe Affects What You Achieve)
Gates also extracted a practical approach: “If you have the fixed mindset and believe you were blessed with raw talent, you tend to spend a lot of time trying to validate your “gift” rather than cultivating it.”
Beyond Gates, several of the reviewers (referenced in the bibliography) found value in the mindset approach. I have categorized them under a couple topics addressed repeatedly in the Business Brain Model.
(10 Big Ideas from Mindset: The New Psychology of Success and Mindset – the new psychology of success, by Carol Dweck)
- “Every time they push out of their comfort zone to learn something new and difficult, the neurons in their brain can form new, stronger connections.”
- “Is it ability or mindset? Was it Mozart’s musical ability or the fact that he worked till his hands were deformed? Was it Darwin’s scientific ability or the fact that he collected specimens nonstop from early childhood?”
As indicated, I have written several articles touching on neuroplasticity. Amongst those, the one that is most relevant is TPN vs. DMN – Brain Structure and Mindfulness – particularly, since it is a bridge to the following section.
(What You Believe Affects What You Achieve)
- “Stoic saying: What is important is not what happens to you. What is important is what you do with what happens to you.”
- “Context should drive whether we should tend more to a fixed or growth mindset. Those with perhaps too much growth mindset may dismiss fixed mindset concerns, and make decisions that have great costs to themselves and others.”
- “There is also room for debate on the role of genetic pre-dispositions toward fixed or growth mindsets – there has been interesting research into how boldness or timidity may in part (or perhaps large part) be genetically determined.”
As indicated, I have written several articles touching on mindfulness and its impact on stress, mindsets etc. etc. In particular, I call your attention to Daniel Kahneman Meets Dalai Lama which was focused on mindfulness and thinking errors – the topic that started this two part series.
The impact of stress is ubiquitous and as described now there is further information it includes decision making.
Clearly, there is no magic bullet. It seems to me the most appropriate way to think about stress – especially in light of recent findings – is in the context of the Taoist concept of yin (dark) and yang (light). I trust you will recognize this as even more fitting when you realize nothing in Taoism is “codified” which is to say nothing is completely yin or yang – each becomes the starting point for the other and so it is with elements of stress and its impact – sometimes positive, sometimes negative but all are interrelated in one’s life.
It’s not the events of our lives that shape us, but our beliefs as to what those events mean. – Tony Robbins
- Carol S. Dweck – Mindset: The New Psychology of Success
- Robert Epstein – MIND Reviews “The Upside of Stress”
- Farnam Street blog – Carol Dweck: A Summary of The Two Mindsets And The Power of Believing That You Can Improve
- Bill Gates – What You Believe Affects What You Achieve
- Kelly McGonigal – The Upside of Stress: Why Stress Is Good for You, and How to Get Good at It
- D. Meier – 10 Big Ideas from Mindset: The New Psychology of Success
- Bob Schoultz – Mindset – the new psychology of success, by Carol Dweck
- Jesse Singal – Is Mindset Theory Really In Trouble?
- Hendrie Weisinger Ph.D. – The Upside of Stress…Not Really…a partial book review
Relevant Business Brain Model articles
- Passion: Part Two – How to get Intimate with Your Passion
- Daniel Kahneman Meets Dalai Lama
- TPN vs. DMN – Neural Mechanisms and Mindfulness
- TPN vs. DMN – Brain Structure and Mindfulness