Mental Preparedness vs Stress

Starting my career during this global pandemic has been no easy task, but I am fortunate to have joined such a great group of people who have made this transition feel seamless. Something that I really appreciate during this unprecedented time is Infotech’s emphasis on wellness. Our company’s Wellness Committee posts weekly challenges in one of our Slack channels, and recently, the focus has been on gratitude. I think exercises like these can be crucial given that the current state of our world is causing uneasiness for many. We were tasked with sharing one failure or mistake that we are grateful for. I shared a story with  my coworkers that I believe has been very important in my personal development.

Here’s what I shared:

Following my second year of college, I had a very busy summer. I was participating in an internship, online classes, and studying for the Graduate Record Examination (GRE) in preparation for applying to my graduate program. I was working really hard, and naturally, I was kind of stressed. When it came to taking the GRE, I felt prepared because of my efforts, but I was feeling mentally overwhelmed at the same time from all that I had going on. I did not do as well as I wanted to, and I knew I was capable of doing better based on practice exams and my preparation. I was sort of hard on myself for this, but I recognized that my being hard on myself was also part of the reason I was not performing at my best.

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I decided to take it again at the end of the summer, but this time, I focused much more on my mental preparation, including mindfulness techniques, affirming confidence in myself and my efforts, and relying on my social network of family and friends. As a result, I was actually studying less and relaxing more. At the end of the summer, just a month after the first time I took it, I took the GRE again, and I was overjoyed with my performance! I did better than I had on any practice exam. I am very grateful for this experience because it taught me that stress can be a good motivator, but allowing myself to get overwhelmed will only hinder my performance. Your state of mind is just as important as the knowledge you are bringing to the table.

I have always been intrigued by the psychology of trying to maximize performance, and recently, I read a book that has really evolved my perspective. The book is called The Happiness Advantage by Shawn Achor, and I would recommend this book to anyone. Achor also has a TED talk on the subject. The premise of the book is that our society has it backwards: we are taught that we need to work hard in order to be happy. However, Achor argues that if you focus on happiness first, you will increase your performance in many areas of life, underscoring the importance of your state of mind. In fact, Achor mentions that research shows every business outcome is improved when an individual’s brain is in a positive state compared to negative, neutral, or stressed. What is even more fascinating is that we can make these drastic changes with the little things we do each day.

I am by all means coming from a place of imperfection on this topic. It can be challenging to overhaul your way of thinking. However, I support the perspective that if one works to get one percent better each day, it will make a major difference in the long run, and I would encourage you to do the same.