The Home of Steven Barnes
Author, Teacher, Screenwriter

Friday, February 11, 2011

Stress, Strain, and Goals

"Chronically high levels of cortisol can induce neuron death in the hippocampus, important in so many of the neural pathways important for human life..." a lovely bit of info from the "Understanding the Brain" course I'm studying right now. Cortisol is related to stress-strain. Preventing stress from becoming strain, therefore, is a critical skill necessary to achieve potential. For those of us who believe (or experience) that "becoming" is a powerful pathway to happiness and meaning in life, this MUST be mastered.

In other words, if you have a dream, first determine if it can be transformed into a goal. A goal has a clearly defined end point (what will it look like?), can be approached incrementally (how much will you do every week?), is something you can actually believe to be possible, (who else has accomplished something comparable?) and can be placed on a time line (when will it be accomplished?)

Tad Stones' "Time Line" approach to goals suggests that you must have your value hierarchies, beliefs, and positive/negative emotional anchors all aligned in order to move toward your goals. While this gives you fuller access to your abilities, the list of other things is finite but intimidating: role models, clear images of end point, internal permission, positive associations with success and negative associations with failure, team building, error checking, resistance to "failure", emotional endurance and perceptual flexibility are among the skills that must be garnered along the way.

From the number of things that have to be mastered (really not much more than are needed to bake from scratch) it is easy to see why frustration will be an inevitable component of the process. High levels of energy are needed in order to feel that we can begin again, and again, and again if necessary (and it WILL be necessary!)

The stress-strain equation says that stress is NOT the problem. Stress is in fact the trigger for action and change that begins the evolutionary process. It is "strain" the system must avoid. have to define your goal, admit that it would hurt to fail, and commit yourself. But you have to have systems in place to prevent the stress from kicking your butt.

However you organize this in your life, you need to have it, and you need to have it operating at the level of unconscious competence. I've found breathing to be the fastest, most powerful way of coping with this, programming in a re-integrative response by associating the fear-stress of cardio respiratory distress with that of life stress, fear, threat, etc.

In other words, your daily meditation or mindful breathing exercise, whether formal prayer, meditation, yoga, running or CST, becomes a rapid-feedback microcosm of your long-term attempts to build career, relationships, or prepare yourself to have a good death.

Who we are as human beings is expressed more clearly in our actions, our consistent, daily behaviors (and aberrations) than anything else: rumors, self-concept, hallucinations, social roles, or whatever. In order to reach any worthwhile goal, we have to dig down to the bedrock of our emotions, to the primal fear and love, and align them so that the fear, which never completely vanishes, drives us forward, and our love pulls us. So that the inevitable "failures" give us feedback without crippling negative emotion. That our inner voices are a cheering section and a circle of mentors rather than a chorus of nay-sayers playing "crabs in a basket". That our ego, which dies repeatedly as we change our actions and beliefs, can be eased into its grave rather than dragging our dreams with it.

It's a fascinating game. As complex and complicated as we choose to make it, or as simple: put your fear behind you, your love in front of you, and run like hell.

1 comment:

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