Goldilocks, Peak Performance & Stress: Finding “The Zone”

Mark Sagor


goldilocksWhen it comes to stress, if the soup’s too hot you can strain your heart, increase your risk of chronic disease, weaken your immune system, be distracted by worry, become irritable and pessimistic and find yourself making poor decisions. And if the soups too cold you risk boredom, lethargy and lack of motivation and engagement. But if the soup is “just right” you may just find yourself in the peak performance zone marked by improved alertness, motivation, optimism and higher productivity.

Typically, when we are faced with an important and challenging task our sympathetic nervous system teams up with our hypothalamus, pituitary and adrenal glands to move an increased supply of adrenaline and cortisol into our bloodstream. It’s what happens next that determines whether our stress response is” too hot” or “just right”. If we experience this surge of stress hormones as beneficial stress our blood vessels dilate increasing blood flow to the brain and we feel energized and excited and cognitively sharp. However, if we experience this surge as harmful or threatening these same blood vessels constrict, blood pressure rises and we may feel angry, speak loudly and lose our ability to think rationally.

When we experience “just right” stress we are able to relax after meeting the challenge. However, after an episode of “too hot” stress we have trouble turning it off and we may experience anxiety, sleep and digestive problems, and pessimistic thoughts.

Many companies are beginning to realize how much they have at stake here in terms of employee health and productivity and they are working with EAP’s and workplace wellness programs to offer coaching programs to help employees reach their optimal performance zone. Resiliency training offers employees a chance to get off of “automatic pilot” and choose new “just right” responses to the challenges they face

What works for you to keep you in the peak performance zone?