HBR: Improve Your Default Response to Stress

by Michelle Gielan for Harvard Business Review

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One morning while anchoring The Early Show in New York, one of my coanchors got mixed up and tossed the show to me five minutes before I was slated to appear for my next segment, which was covering breaking news on political corruption in Washington. The teleprompter was cued to a different story, which, if I remember correctly, was about cats at a local shelter. I found myself live on national television in front of millions of viewers — with the wrong setup, and with a video of shelter cats instead of fat cats in Washington.

It is moments like these that test a person. And it’s not the problem itself, but our response to it, that matters in our careers and in our lives. In my work now as a positive psychology researcher, I study the mindset of people who overcome high-stress challenges both big and small and who thrive amid adversity. The conclusion of our most recent study: 91% of us could get better at dealing with stress.

In a study we conducted with Plasticity Labs, my research colleagues, Shawn Achor (my husband) and Brent Furl, and I found that it’s not so much why we worry that’s important; it’s how we respond to stimuli in the environment that matters. When a challenge strikes, our response can typically be categorized along three specific, testable dimensions:

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