I’ve been thinking about some personal stories that I want to include in my book as a way of sharing what I’ve learned about work, productivity, and happiness. Lately, most of the stories I’ve been thinking of are from my days as a junior doctor pulling long nights on a hospital ward. And I got a bit worried about how similar all those stories were to one another. Am I too boring? Do I have enough interesting stories and original ideas to write a whole book?
Then I stumbled on this quote by the poet Rainer Maria Rilke in his “Letters to a Young Poet”
“If your everyday life seems to lack material, do not blame it; blame yourself, tell yourself that you are not poet enough to summon up its riches, for there is no lack for him who creates and no poor, trivial place.”
I often feel that my days look pretty similar day-to-day. But this quote really helped remind me that even when we’re going through repetitive or monotonous phases in our lives (or when I feel like I’ve run dry of stories), it’s more about the perspective through which I tell the story rather than the plot of the story.
This is something Matthew Dicks talks about in his incredible book Storyworthy (which was my favourite non-fiction book that I read in 2020) – no one wants to hear your travel or drinking stories. Instead, they want to hear about stories in your day-to-day life that resulted in a personal transformation.
✍️ What we worked on this week
Anyway, speaking of being worried about not being “good enough”, this week we looked at work-related anxiety and stress. Recent statistics show that workplace stress is a serious problem with over 8 out of 10 Americans reporting having experienced work-related stress.
There are lots of reasons why people experience workplace stress – bad bosses, societal pressures to perform well, attaching your identity too much to work etc. Regardless of the main source of workplace stress, one thing seems to be common across all these causes – it can lower our productivity and lead to a vicious negative cycle – we’re stressed out because we’re worried that we’re not performing well, and this stress makes it harder for us to perform well, so this negative cycle continues…
🧠 The most interesting thing we learned
But is stress always a bad thing? Apparently not. There’s this relationship between stress and performance called the Yerkes-Dodson curve. It was discovered by two Harvard psychologists Robert Yerkes and John Dillingham Dodson back in the 1900s.
The two psychologists found that when we’re focusing on general anxiety (i.e. non-disordered anxiety – an important caveat), there’s a U-shaped relationship between performance and stress/anxiety. Too much is bad for performance. But too little is also bad because we feel no urge or motivation to get things done. Ever since Yerkes and Dodson discovered this relationship, other researchers have also demonstrated it through experiments in both animals and humans.
The Yerkes-Dodson curve reminds me of psychologist Kelly McGonigal’s Ted Talk. In that talk, Kelly talks about how to turn stress into an advantage. There are, of course, people who suffer from serious anxiety and need medical help for it. But what’s interesting about these studies is that they seem to suggest that if our anxiety is of the general (not disordered) kind then perhaps there are ways to learn to use our anxiety as a source of energy to motivate us to get things done.
❓Question of the week
So, in the survey for this week, I’d love to get your thoughts on your experiences of anxiety and any tips on how you deal with it. If you’re up for sharing a story that might feature in the book, please check out our survey here.
We’re going to ask you questions like…
- Your experiences of work-related anxiety
- What it feels like when you experience work-related anxiety
- Whether you think we can use anxiety to our disadvantage
- Any tips and tricks that you have to deal with work-related anxiety
As usual, the form will ask you for your name and email (optional) so that we can give you credit for the story, or potentially reach out to you to ask for more details 🙂
📢 Answers from last week’s questions
Thanks to all of you who took part in our survey on burnout. It was pretty cool to see how your responses lined up with a lot of the existing theories that we’ve read about in books and journal articles. Here are some highlights:.
- Over 8 in 10 of you agree or strongly agree that burnout is a serious problem
- Lots of you very kindly provided some insightful reasons for experiencing burnout. These 4 reasons came up repeatedly
- Boredom and dissatisfaction at work
- Perfectionism and having a desire to please people constantly
- Loving your job too much and giving too much, and neglecting your personal needs as a result
- Bad managements/bosses who put too much pressure on you and your work
If you can think of anything else on that front, please do let us know through the survey 😊
That’s it from me for now. Have a great week!