Hustle and Flow
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Hustle and Flow

Good Framework On Stress

I’m thinking of writing a post on “tension”, and this is just adding fuel to the fire.

The article below is via Sahil Bloom. Highly recommend subscribing to his newsletter.

The Yerkes-Dodson Law

The Yerkes-Dodson Law is a simple model of the relationship between performance and stress.

Visualization Credit: Sachin Ramje

In simple terms, the Yerkes-Dodson Law says that stress and performance are positively correlated, but only up to a certain point, after which more stress reduces performance.

Anecdotally, this probably checks out for most people:

  • We like to procrastinate a bit on big projects or tasks. The pressure of the approaching deadline gets us into a focused state that pushes us through to the finish. If we procrastinate too much on that same project or task, the pressure becomes overwhelming and our performance starts to suffer as the deadline rapidly approaches.
  • We perform better in the game than during the practice. The bit of added stress — from the bright lights of the arena — elevates our performance. But if the situation gets too pressure-filled, we may start to crumble.

There are effectively three states to be aware of:

  1. Low Stress: This is a state of low arousal. This state is necessary for recovery, but it is generally not conducive to performance. Working on important tasks while in this state is not ideal.
  2. Optimal Stress: This is the optimal state of arousal. It’s the “Goldilocks” level — not too hot, not too cold, just right. When you’re in this state, you are well-positioned to work on important tasks.
  3. High Stress: This is a state of high arousal. This is typically where we see a biological fight-or-flight response kick in. It may lead to a complete shutdown from system overload. Working on important tasks while in this state is not ideal.

Visualization Credit: Sachin Ramje

As you think about optimizing your own performance, mapping your curve is an important first step.

When working on important tasks, leverage this newfound awareness to spend more time in an optimal stress state and less time in a low or high stress state.

Importantly, while the three general states are the same for everyone, the absolute levels of stress that place you into a given state can be very different.

There are certainly genetic factors at play, but you can also train yourself to handle and manage stress more efficiently.

Place yourself into controlled stressful environments and work on managing your mental and physical faculties.

Example: Get into a cold shower or ice bath and see if you can focus and perform a mental task (simple math, reciting a poem, etc.) for a fixed period of time.

This type of training may flatten the right side of your curve — i.e. slow the decay in your performance at higher stress levels — thereby enabling you to perform in a wider variety of situations.

Learning to manage stress is the first step.

Learning to wield it as a weapon in your personal arsenal is the next step.



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Eddy Badrina

CEO of @EdenGreen. Co-founder of @Buzzshift (acquired 2x). Twitter & Instagram: @eddybadrina. Deut. 8:17–18