Liza Rose

Tuesday, 12 August 2014

Under Committed, Over Committed or Just Should be Committed

The last few months have seen some ups and downs in the lives of my friends and family. Health scares, financial woes, separations, new relationships and work issues have taken their toll on all of us.

In the past, my response to this kind of situation is to provide support where needed then retreat into a cocoon of bad TV and excessive chocolate bars, leading me into a personal spiral that mirrors that of those around me. This time though, something has changed. Indeed, I have achieved optimization of stress.

Stress has a bad press. Stress should be avoided, prevented, and otherwise shunned so the wisdom goes. However, no allowance is made for the fact that like many things that impact our lives, stress follows a "normal" distribution or "Bell" curve:

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For those not familiar with such things, they are favoured highly by statisticians, which of course makes them suspect in some quarters, but they are in fact very simple pictorial diagrams of "random" events in populations. Random here relates to a lack of relationship between the events. An example might be the time of day that people drop litter. Man A does not drop litter at 2pm just because Man B does, nor vice versa, and Man C drops his litter at 4pm. If the total population of the city were recorded dropping litter, the resulting times would be a normal curve (and a messy street), probably centering around lunch time if observation is anything to go by. In this case, lunch is a factor, but lunch time is random.

The amount of stress you experience compared to the person next to you is also random. You may be experiencing the same event, but the stress you each experience will be an entirely personal and subjective amount. When you plot many events against total population, the result is the "normal" distribution - ok so this is a simplification, there is a lot of complex and possibly useful mathematics that could be inserted here, but that will not add to the interest factor of this blog! However, there are some pretty pictures of bell curves provided below as a demonstration.

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Similarly the effectiveness of our lives does not vary directly with the amount of stress we are subjected to (otherwise we might literally explode or melt!), but instead increases and then decreases again, once again following a normal distribution. Back to my realisation.

When over stressed (and usually over-committed as a result), which is where many of us live and/or have lived at times, we are ineffective, tired, "stressed" in the broader sense and in some cases, depressed, ill or worse. Whenever I have found myself in that situation, I have taken the advice proffered and slowed down, taken time for "me", relaxed, rested, dropped all commitments ... until I have fallen off the other end - the "no stress" zone of the bell curve. And... the result is ...from ineffective to .... ineffective and bored without realising it and just wondering where all the time is going, never getting anything done, resulting in a slow recovery to optimum.

Well this time, I stopped, and took a look at that curve properly. Finally I realised that a bit of stress is good. We all need a drive. So, this time, I dropped some of the more stressful aspects, but added back some alternatives. Not only is stress good and bad for you, but there are different types... there is physical stress, emotional stress, external stress, internal stress, personal stress and work stress. If all of those areas are in balance, and in the centre of their own respective normal distributions then the resulting peak effectiveness is optimised. You can do more in less time, without being overwhelmed. You can balance that elusive work life thing. You can be more spontaneous, by trading off from one stress curve to another and back again.

So, if life feels like a roller coaster, it probably looks like one too!