How Stress Can Improve Your Performance

How Stress Can Improve Your Performance (by Justin Menkes, Harvard Business Review Blog, April 28, 2011)

Recently, I read an article in which a developmental psychologist cited a mountain of evidence showing that IQ was one of the most significant predictors of emotional resiliency in children. The same pattern has also long been seen in the military, where it has been conclusively shown that higher-IQ soldiers show fewer signs of long-term post-traumatic stress.

Why would cognitive ability predict emotional hardiness? In truth, it doesn’t. But the tests that measure cognitive ability do. When you tell people they have 12 minutes to show whether they are smart or dumb, the ability to stay calm and focused under duress has a huge impact on the scores.

Heightened anxiety has long been shown to dramatically impair people’s ability to think. It affects basic functions such as short-term memory and processing of simple information, as well as more complex thinking, where anxiety can aggressively interfere with the ability to differentiate between important and irrelevant tasks. In today’s business environment of unrelenting pressure, aspiring leaders must learn how to confront heightened levels of urgency without allowing the accompanying mental agitation to be disruptive.

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