Men: Why Avoiding Stress Will Never Make You A Top Performer

man with both hands covering face as if feeling overwhelmed

You’re under siege…

Increasingly, you wake up thinking about the bills. Pleasant as that is, those thoughts must take a backseat because it’s time to get the kids off to school. If you’re lucky your commute won’t be too hellish.

At work your inbox is expanding, projects are piling up, and you’re pretty sure the new manager just graduated from Annoying U.

Bonus: Throw in a fender bender, dental emergency, or some in-law drama and…

Go ahead, punch a hole in the wall (I’ll wait).

Stress can get to the best of us, leaving us feeling anxious, depressed, tired, out of control, scattered, annoyed, and generally unhappy. And there are seemingly endless stressors in our lives. Kids get sick, spouses aren’t kind, bills pile up, deals fall through, the economy takes a crap…

Then the weariness sets in. It feels like you’re fighting an endless war against a tireless enemy.

You think, “If only life were simpler I’d be so much happier.”

But, what if stress is not the problem? What if you’ve been thinking about this all wrong?

When Life Kicks You In The (Stress) Balls

oil painting of man grasping his face as if suffering, in anguish and in pain
Photo by Aarón Blanco Tejedor

It’s a familiar story…

Stress is bad. An epidemic of modern living. A scourge implicated in numerous crimes, from causing anxiety to putting us in an early grave.

Naturally, we blame stress for stealing our joy.

How could we not? We’ve been reading articles for decades condemning its ruinous effects on our lives.

Unsurprisingly, men will often reminisce about simpler times — either from their childhood, or some idealized, bygone era.

Sigh.

Stress also gets credit for our poor productivity and performance. When we’re stressed we’re not our best, goes the logic. It steals our energy and, as a result, our minds become muddled and our actions confused.

It’s no wonder we feel like stress is blocking our success. And it makes sense why we seek to eliminate, avoid, or at least manage this problem.

Of course, there’s truth in all of these points. But, there’s also another side to the story…

No Strain, No Gain

body builder man lifting heavy weights
Photo by Alora Griffiths

I don’t mean to be flippant.

The problems associated with stress are well established.

But, what if the way we’re thinking about stress is making everything worse? We’ll return to this idea shortly, but first let’s challenge some of the conventional thinking around this topic.

Can stress make us sick? Sure.

But we also need stress to adapt, grow, and become strong.

Go ahead and take all the stress out of weightlifting. You won’t make any gains. Similarly, being too relaxed while studying curtails learning. Stress actually increases our ability to memorize new material.

Okay, but doesn’t too much stress wear us down and take the fun out of life?

It can.

But let’s be honest. Without stress, our lives would be dull.

I’m into meditating and feeling peaceful as much as (actually, more than) the next guy, but I’m not seeking a life with zero friction, challenges, or difficulties.

Boring!

Have you ever noticed how one man’s stress is another man’s adventure?

Ultimately stress is just your response to stimulation. Something happens— either in your mind or in the environment — that causes a reaction in your nervous system. Then you layer meaning on those sensations and thoughts.

Can that stimulation be interpreted in radically different ways?

Definitely.

If I take my dad on a roller coaster, he’ll be upset (stressed). Me? I’d be having a great time (excited).

In fact, my dad would probably have is eyelids clenched, trying to visit his happy place. Maybe he’d be imagining himself in a time before roller coasters — an ideal world when life wasn’t so damn stressful.

Let me tell you, that’s a fantasy.

Different eras, different stressors —stuff we can’t even comprehend. Plagues, starvation, violence, grueling labor…

Yep, sounds like a real vacation.

Okay, but doesn’t stress cloud our judgment, and distort our words and actions, harming our performance? How could that not hinder our success?

Let me ask you something…

When is the last time you achieved anything important without some stress?

Watching TV isn’t stressful. Drinking a beer isn’t stressful. Guess what is though:

  • Making loads of money
  • Solving big problems
  • Crushing formidable foes
  • Running a country
  • Growing a business
  • Learning rewarding skills

Should stress be eliminated and avoided? Nah.

Managed? Perhaps, but maybe that won’t be necessary after you make this mindset shift…

Get Offensive With Stress

shared workspace with words "PUNCH TODAY IN THE FACE" written on the wall
Photo by Johnson Wang

It’s time you stopped getting your ass kicked by life.

You’ve been on your heels, bent backwards over the ropes, taking too many punches for long enough.

You’re better than this.

Here’s the thing… The problem is how you view stress — as a big, scary (hairy?) opponent that you have no chance of beating. You figure (if you’re lucky) maybe you’ll survive a few rounds before it takes you down.

But this is all wrong.

Stress is not an opponent that you must doggedly battle until you tap out.

No, stress is the vital edge. The adventure zone. The space where the game is being played.

Dealing with a difficult coworker or boss?

Drop the emotional baggage and step into the ring. It’s time to test your influence skills. Be courageous and try something new. Let’s see if you can get what you want while being honest and kind.

That feeling in your nerves?

That’s life telling you it’s time to wake up, get sharp, pay attention. Something is unfolding that requires more of you. This is where growth happens. Where you test your skills and find out what you’re made of.

Fighting your way through crazy traffic?

I bet you’ve played video games. Why was that fun? How is this so different? Use the commute as an opportunity to cultivate awareness, focus, and patience.

Last time I checked, staying cool under pressure was a valuable and admirable skill for a man to possess.

The key is to embrace stress by learning to skillfully ride that edge.

I’m willing to bet money that a big part of your problem is that you’re getting stressed about stress. Your physiological response is overkill. The excessive mental noise freaks you out, kicking you out of the zone and into a state of overwhelm.

With a small shift in your thinking, you can accept — even grow to love — all of life’s unpredictable, chaotic moments that test your mettle.

You can step out of the role of the weary foot soldier, mired in the mud of the battlefield, fending off the endless blows of an advancing army. Instead, become the ecstatic warrior that runs into battle with a grin. Terrifying enemies with your lust for action.

Ready for anything and living totally in the moment.

How much better could your life be if you approached stress this way?

Next Level Living

man looking out on mountain top above clouds with arms stretched out and thumbs up
Photo by Nghia Le
What happens when you embrace stress?

You become less stressed!

Instead of flinching at life’s twists and turns, you ride full speed into the melee — thirsty for action.

You gain clarity, energy, and courage. No more foot dragging, avoiding, or resisting. Instead, you move freely through the day, eagerly anticipating your next adventure.

Because you see every situation as an arena for adaptation and creative expression, your skills improve, making you more focused, productive, and influential.

And, because you’re no longer on the defensive, but instead moving forward with purpose, you regain control over your life. You set the tone. You decide on what hill the battle will transpire.

You’re no longer at the mercy of external factors.

Although you can’t control everything, you can be in control of how you engage with life’s endless surprises. This makes you strong and stable, making others feel secure around you.

You’ve got it handled. And because of that, you become a better employee, boss, husband, father, friend, leader, and man.

Life Will Never Be The Same

man walking down street jumping and clicking his heels together
Photo by Andre Hunter
There’s no shortage of life-experiences labeled stressful.

You’re told to manage, avoid, or eliminate stress — “Just don’t let it take over your life!”

So you go on the defensive, feeling attacked on all fronts.

But there’s an entirely different approach you can take. Knowing that stress is just a part of life — beneficial even—you can stop running scared.

You can go on the offensive. Becoming bold and adventurous — laughing instead of grimacing. Like an adventurer who can’t wait to get back on the high seas. Land life is too boring for him. He feels most alive in a storm.

Are you ready to be at home in life’s storms?

Is it time to get your energy back? Become more present? To live with greater clarity and courage? To take back control?

Go get ’em tiger!

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