In today’s day and age, it is rare that you come across a student of any level that says they are not stressed, concerned or anxious about one thing or another. To some degree, stress can be a good thing, even a motivator. However, I’ve found that I need to recognize when those opportunities arise that will allow me to be successful in taking advantage of my stress. I have read many a book and listened to many a podcast about this topic so I feel confident in that I know what I’m talking about. That being said, I’m not an expert. I hope you come away with a useful trick or two and feel more reassured by your stress level.
In summer 2015, I read a book that was about the significance and prevalence of pressure and stress in people’s lives (read my full review here). While I didn’t care for the book or the style of the writing, it did introduce one very interesting fact to me. What was this fact? We are all motivated by stress to some degree.
If our lives were completely devoid of stress, as a species,we would like the desire or motivation to do pretty much anything. It’s the stress we inflict on ourselves that pushes us to get good grades, try new things, hell, to even get dressed in the morning. Wild, huh? I’ll be honest, when I first came across that idea, I brushed it off. “There’s no way that this is actually true,” I thought to myself. Surprise – it holds so much merit.
Make sense of it in the simplest terms – getting out of bed in the morning. *Brrrring* Your alarm goes off at 8:00 am and you roll over to hit snooze or turn off your alarm. As you have your phone in your hands you think to yourself, “I just want to sleep for another twenty minutes.” Something in the back of your mind whispers to you “You have a meeting in an hour and a half and you need to shower.” The pressure of needing to shower, prepare for the meeting, get to the meeting, etc. is what is ultimately serving as the “stress” and motivational force in the situation.
Like I said, that was a very tame example of what simple stress can look like and how it can be motivational in performing every day tasks. However, this type of stress is innate and goes relatively unnoticed (unless getting up in the morning gives you the stress-sweats). For the remainder of this post I will be talking about BIG stress.
What does big stress look like? Dealing with repercussions of being in a car accident, taking the LSAT/GRE, looking for a job, etc. I’m going to break down ways to deconstruct the stress you are feeling and make it manageable and, more importantly, motivational.
Identify Your Stress.
What is causing you feelings of stress? If you can easily identify the cause, hold onto that and save it for the next point. More often than not, specifically identifying the cause of stress can be difficult. I’ve found through my research and personal experience that what makes identifying the origin of feelings of stress are the feelings themselves. We often focus so much of our energy on feeling stressed that we may feel like we are not solving the problem if we waste our energy trying to identify the cause of our stress.
That being said, feelings of stress can cloud our judgment and proper thinking processes. This can make it incredibly difficult to place our finger on exactly what our problem is. If this is the case for you, STOP. Seriously, stop what you’re doing and sit. Take some deep breaths, disconnect from whatever it is you’re doing and start broadly – what is causing you stress? An assignment? Class? A coworker? What?
Once you have identifying the overarching cause of your stress, slowly start to narrow down this cause by asking yourself “Why?” Continue to ask yourself why until to get to the heart of your stress. For example: Today, I’m feeling really stressed. Why? I have to write a 12-page paper and I’m feeling really unmotivated. Why? The topic is wildly uninteresting. Why? I’m not interested in this topic, which is making it very hard to know where to start when writing this paper. BOOM. You don’t know where to start, which is overwhelming you, which is causing you stress because (let’s be honest) you probably procrastinated.
Make a Plan.
You will be absolutely stunned at how relieved you feel once you have pinpointed the exact cause of your feelings of stress. I promise. However, our work is not done once we have identified the cause, now we’ve got to figure out our next step. It’s time to create a concrete plan made of realistic steps that will help you tackle this exam/job interview/house search by a deadline.
Yes, you read that correctly, I said deadline. The first thing you do after you identify the feelings of your stress should be to determine when you need to have this thing accomplished by. Be specific – pick an actual date.
Once you have a deadline, grab a piece of pen and paper and write it down. Now it’s time to write down realistic milestones for you to accomplish in order to tackle the larger task at hand. The easiest way to illustrate this is with an essay. Remember that 12-page paper we mentioned before? Let’s say it’s due in two days. While an overall goal for each day may be to write six-pages, we want to break down our goals smaller than that. A more effective timeline would look like this:
- 12-Page paper due: Friday, December 16, 6:00 pm
- Day 1:
- 9:00 am – 11:00 am – write 3 pages
- 11:00 am – 12:30 pm – lunch and break
- 12:30 pm – 3:00 pm – write 3 pages
- 3:00 pm – 4:00 pm – create citations
- Day 2:
- 9:00 am – 11:00 am – write 3 pages
- 11:00 am – 12:00 pm – lunch and break
- 12:00 pm – 3:00 pm – write 3 pages
- 3:00 pm – 5:00 pm – proofread & citations
- 5:00 pm – submit
Whenever I have a schedule written out like this, I find myself wanting to accomplish (read as: I am motivated to accomplish) more on the first day that way there’s less for me to do on the second day.
The most important thing is that you stick to a concrete schedule and hold yourself accountable.
(More on the blog: How to Set Goals and Why They’re Important)
I’ve found that this is just as important as all of the identification, planning and execution throughout this entire process. The key here is that you decide on your reward BEFORE you begin completing your objective. Why? This keeps you from daydreaming about what reward you should get once you’ve completed your objective. Deciding beforehand, expedites this process and keeps you focused throughout the entire process.
I’ve found the most success with this process when I follow this order and really commit to the process. Despite the inclusion of a reward, as I am moving through this process, I don’t find the reward as motivational as you might initially expect. I find the schedule to be the most motivating factor because it gave me miniature deadlines.