The Resolution Revolution: How Stress Slows Your Progress (and Speeds It Up)

January: resolution time. Goals to assess. New leaves to turn.

Many of us will pledge to squeeze yet more high performance out of fewer hours. Doable? Likely. Desirable? Possibly. Stressful? Definitely.

The only question is whether the stress is working for you or not.

Take a minute to think about this thing called ‘stress’. In general it’s defined as bad news. Yet, as my friend and lifestyle expert Terri Trespicio points out, without stress, you’d never kick off the covers each morning. There’d be no point. Stress generates the passion and get-go high achievers need to build up and sustain their pace.

But excessive stress is indeed a trap. If you believe you should double your revenue or client base this year, and anything less is failure, you’ve built a pressure cooker. Without a clear sense of your motivation — the why behind the striving and stress — you’re courting unhappiness, failure or maybe even a chronic physical complaint.

So instead, let’s start 2015 with a revolutionary take of resolve. It’s time to deconstruct stress, and distinguish the bad from the good. The success and survival of your goals may ride on it.

Terri is interested in the motivation behind goals. Let’s say you’re determined to stage two marketing events a month. Are you doing this because the thought of being out there so often is gratifying? That’s setting up ‘positive stress’. Even if you’re scared, you’ve got something you want in mind. Chance for success: pretty good (depending on how you handle fear; more on that in a minute).

But what if, deep down, you’ve set this goal because everyone tells you to, and you’d really rather eat your shoe leather than stage another marketing event? I’m going to take a leaping guess: this goal will become your least favorite chore. You’ll dodge it, and probably hate yourself a little when at last you abandon it. Welcome to uninvited, unproductive stress. You shouldn’t have set this goal in the first place!

To set business goals that serve you and your bottom line, here are some factors to consider before you set your course in stone:

  • The WHY: Do you want this? Are you just keeping uncertainty at bay?

    We humans don’t like uncertainty. We often set goals when we feel lost. This is scratching an itch, at best. Dig deeper and imagine what accomplishments you’d be proud to look back on in a year or two. You can find actionable goals inside those feelings.

  • Write goals in pen, methods in pencil.

    If you’re too rigid in defining how you must achieve your goals you’re asking for excessive stress, and setting yourself up to cheat. Prepare for adjustments. If you find that setting up one new marketing event is quite enough, thank you, and you’re pleased with the results, ratchet down and remember that there’s more than one way to succeed.

  • Don’t wait for the ‘perfect’ opportunity.

    It doesn’t exist, and action is more important the quality of your first moves. Don’t get stuck in the ‘how’.

  • The bad stress begins when you believe things that aren’t true.

    You may feel stressed about your goals because missing them indicates you’re a failure, that people no longer trust you, that you’re a terrible salesperson, etc. Terri’s contribution to this: separate the story for the truth. All those nasty thoughts are your stress perceptions, not reality. Learn to see the difference.

  • Associate pain with staying behind, not going forward.

    Change is hard when doing nothing seems less frightening than doing something. It becomes possible when you’re more afraid of where you’ll be if you don’t change. Do you really want to have the same client roll and gross revenue five years from now? Get in touch with that fear and you have a new source of wonderful, motivating stress.

A friend once told me that ‘ideas should be like sitting on a cactus. They should make you jump.’ To me, that illustrates productive stress. It sparks your desire to improve your situation, and fast.

This resolution revolution requires just one edict: if your goal doesn’t get your creative, problem-solving juices flowing, scrap it. Start again. And take your time: one positive-stress goal in February is far preferable to a host of bad stress declarations. One has heart; the others are hollow.

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