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Life Can be Thrilling

Life Can Be Thrilling, Not Stressful

By now, we’ve all thought about resolutions for the new year, and maybe you’re one week into your new commitments and wondering why you picked something so ambitious. I’ve talked to several people this week who are already backing off of their goals because the holidays are over and the pressures of real life have returned. To anyone who is already reconsidering commitments related to diet, exercise, work, family time or “me” time, don’t give up and certainly don’t stress over them; you simply have to find that sweet spot somewhere between ambition and the impossible.

If you’re anything like me, you need a little pressure in order to function at your prime level of productivity and pleasure. I could easily spend two hours every morning reading the news and having coffee with my husband, but most mornings, I’ve made coffee, read the news, gone for a run, written a few emails, taken a shower and driven to the office in the same amount of time. A calm, commitment-free state is nice on occasion, but it’s not how I function best. When things get too crazy, though, say because I also need to get ready for houseguests or plan for a trip out of town, I might stop doing any of those things well. So I skip the run, leave too little time to get to the airport, fail to respond to emails, you know the drill. It’s when I try to do too much that I can’t achieve what I set out to, and then I actually perform less well and don’t take care of the basics either.

The Yerkes Dodson curve, which explains the relationship between “arousal” and performance, is a good way to understand how all of these pressures, or stress in general, work: Stress increases our performance up to a point, but when the pressure gets too great, performance will decrease. This inverted U-shape shows we perform best (at the peak of the curve) when we have just the right amount of stress. Too little leaves us uninspired, and too much is overwhelming. Think about how coffee makes you feel: One or two cups might make a world of difference, but after three the benefits decline.

It’s this concept that is easily overlooked as we try to reform our lives. Now that we’ve test-driven our resolutions, we’re in a good place to revise them. As you look at what you’d like to accomplish this year, think about your own personal stress “sweet spot” relative to your goals; what makes you excited about exercise or working out or cooking for your family, and at what point does it stop being exciting?

Committing to too much is just as bad as committing to something too simple. Promising that you’ll never eat sugar again is unrealistic, but resolving that you’ll only eat it twice a week isn’t. A smart, balanced commitment might be all it takes to help you stick to that new goal, to maintain the excitement without the anxiety. If you espouse only one new idea this year, it should be that “Life can be thrilling, not stressful.” It’s up to you to find your stress sweet spot and keep it that way.

To help you get and stay in control and on top of your game this year, I share with you 10 tenets. Mind you, these are operating principles to live by, rather than New Year’s tips or resolutions. I will be examining each in future posts. (See meQuilibrium’s GPS Guide here.)

  • Living your life and chasing your ambitions can be thrilling, not stressful.
  • Recharge your body each day for optimal use.
  • Observe your thoughts and question them often.
  • Eat well, sleep more and move around a lot.
  • Get rid of what you don’t need and make room for what you want.
  • Positive trumps negative. Always.
  • What you focus on will flourish.
  • Give help and be willing to accept it.
  • Connect to something greater than yourself.
  • Maintain your equilibrium to make the most of whatever comes your way.