I recently read a great new book by Timothy Ferriss, called The 4-Hour Workweek: Escape 9-5, Work Anywhere, and Join the New Rich (Crown Publishers 2007). Here’s the link to Tim’s website.
Tim has a lot of interesting things to say, but one thing that really struck me was the following observation entitled “Distress is Bad, Eustress is Good.”
“Unbeknownst to most fun-loving bipeds, not all stress is bad. Indeed the New Rich don’t aim to eliminate all stress. Not in the least. There are two separate types of stress, each as different as euphoria and its seldom-mentioned opposite, dysphoria.
What's the difference between distress and eustress?
Distress refers to harmful stimuli that make you weaker, less confident, and less able. Destructive criticism, abusive bosses, and smashing your face on a curb are examples of this. These are things we want to avoid.
Eustress, on the other hand, is a word most of you have probably never heard of. Eu-, a Greek prefix for 'healthy,' is used in the same sense in the word 'euphoria.' Role models who push us to exceed our limits, physical training that removes our spare tires, and risks that expand our sphere of comfortable action are examples of eustress-stress that is healthful and the stimulus for growth.
People who avoid all criticism fail. It’s destructive criticism we need to avoid, not criticism in all forms. Similarly, there is no progress without eustress, and the more eustress we can create or apply to our lives, the sooner we can actualize our dreams. The trick is telling the two apart.
The New Rich are equally aggressive in removing distress and finding eustress.”
(The 4-Hour Workweek, at page 37).
There’s a huge piece of wisdom in what Tim has to say. Stress, as in distress, is clearly bad for us; it shuts us down, wears us out, makes us sick, ages us and eventually kills us. Eustress, on the other hand pulls us up from lethargy and inaction, excites us, challenges us, gives us hope and inspiration to take constructive action. The Universe rewards inspired action. Eustress is the initiating part of the process that gets us from where we are to where we want to be.
Examples of distress and eustress
I’ve talked for some time about the difference between motivation and inspiration. Motivation applies pressure to our lives, pushing us forward, while inspiration draws us forward, like a vacuum that needs to be filled. The one is effortful and distressful, while the other is effortless and eustressful.
Examples of distress in your external environment would be allowing yourself to associate with negative and/or hostile people, or to work in a cluttered office with piles of unfinished work on your desk, a chair that gives you a backache and a computer monitor that makes you squint.
Examples of eustress in your external environment would be choosing to associate only with positive people and choosing to eliminate direct contact with negative and hostile people in your life, choosing to maintain your office so that your current highest priority project is always in the middle of a clear desk, with your prioritized daily task list in plain view next to your current list of weekly, monthly and annual goals, and choosing to invest in an ergonomic chair, a bright clear monitor and good lighting.
Examples of distress in your body environment would be to allow yourself to get into or remain in poor physical condition due to little or no exercise, lack of adequate rest, and/or over consumption of nutrient-poor foods, such as sugars, trans fats, refined carbohydrates, caffeine, alcohol, nicotine, or other harmful substances at the expense of nutrient-rich foods.
Examples of eustress in your body environment would be choosing to establish and maintain a habit of regular exercise, adequate rest, consumption of nutrient-rich foods and avoidance of nutrient poor foods, and choosing not to put other harmful substances into your body.
Examples of distress in your mental environment would be to focus on your reasons to feel angry, resentful and/or guilty about what has occurred in the past and to dwell on all of the awful things that could go wrong in the future that are beyond your control such as the following: “She deliberately did that!” “He doesn’t care who he hurts!” “He cheated me!” “She lied to me!” “That’s not fair!” “I will never forgive myself!” “I am so ashamed!” “I was so humiliated!” “They will never forgive me!” “I will never forgive them.” “What will I do if . . .?” “I will never be able to survive if. . .”
Examples of eustress in your mental environment would be to focus on your reasons to feel content about the past, harmonious about the present, and inspired and excited about the future, focusing on what you have control over, not what is beyond your control.
• You can choose to believe that the past is perfect simply because you cannot change it.
• You can choose to believe that everything happens for a reason and that reason is always for your highest good.
• You can choose to believe that everyone does the best they can, given the resources available to them.
• You can choose to focus on enhancing resources (both yours and others') rather than parceling out blame.
• You can choose to take 100% responsibility for your life.
• You can choose to be inspired by the noble acts of others and to emulate them.
• You can choose to reexamine your beliefs and determine whether they truly serve you and who you want to become.
• You can choose to drop beliefs that no longer serve you. You believed what you believed because you didn’t know any better at the time. You did the best you could. Now, you do know better, and you are free to choose not to believe those old beliefs that don’t serve you anymore.
• You can choose to take on new beliefs that will assist you on your journey toward your goals. Those are beliefs that are not necessarily consistent with who you are now, but rather with who you want to be. It’s your choice.
• You can choose goals that inspire you to greet each new day as a new adventure, that make you feel excited to get out of bed in the morning.
• You can choose to write your goals down.
• You can choose to create affirmations that support you on your path toward your goals.
• You can choose to make commitments to yourself and to others that will lead you closer to your goals.
• You can choose to take positive action to honor your commitments.
• You can choose to focus on the now and on what you can be doing now to move you closer to your goals.
• You can choose to take inspired action to move you toward your goals.
• And you can act now.
That positive discomfort that you feel by taking action now, that little stretch that you take that results in inspired action, that’s eustress.
Eustress is good. Experience it often.
Philip J. Daunt, Esq.