McGonigal writes about mindsets, "beliefs that shape your reality." The concept of mindsets isn't new. I've always thought of them as, say, a belief system that everything is filtered through. What is new is that McGonigal says that mindsets affect how we perceive stress and that there's a "new field of mindset science" that shows that one short intervention can change them.
I've only made it about 25% of the way into the book so far, and while I was in the early days I was thinking...Meh. Then I realized what my own stress mindset is. (Actually, McGonigal tells us in the book to do that, so maybe I was following instructions. I don't remember.) And very soon thereafter I happened to get an e-mail from a family member (not the archivist I wrote about recently, another one, a nurse) who had read my first stress and time management post and responded with what sure looked like her stress mindset.
A Tale Of Two Stress Mindsets
Gauthier 1. That's me. This is how my mindset about stress goes: I feel that I can only take on one stressful activity at a time. I can't take on Stressful Activity B until Stressful Activity A is over. I can't even make reservations for a weekend in July until whatever issue is concerning me in May and June is over.
Gauthier 2. The nurse. She thinks that stress is necessary. She believes we have stress no matter what the circumstances, because we are so used to having stress that it helps us to get things done. Feeling stressed gets us motivated to finish the things we need to do. Otherwise, would we finish anything?
The Gauthier Stress Mindsets And Time Management
How do these mindsets affect how these particular Gauthiers manage time and crank out work?
Gauthier 1. That's me again. If the stars are lined up correctly, I can work toward multiple goals. Not so much when stress raises its ugly head. In fact, during particularly stressful times, I intentionally narrow my focus to only a few things. Once I get something done, or get that stress behind me, I can take on something else. I can stay on task, because I limit the number of tasks I'm working on. I might, for instance, limit myself to work and family, and cut way back on social interactions and travel.
Gauthier 2. Gauthier 2, who is not me, remember, is able to work on more things over all aspects of her life. She manages work, family, a network of friends, travel, going to movies regularly, and hitting some Broadway shows when they came to Hartford.
Does what I'm describing here illustrate that fight-or-flight business we're always hearing about because Gauthier 1 appears to run for her life to escape stress while Gauthier 2 tends to go "@#!! it! We're doing this?" You'd think so, but McGonigal says that fight or flight is not the only stress response. More on that in another post.
Why Do People Develop Different Stress Mindsets?
Gauthier 1 and Gauthier 2 should have pretty similar DNA (Ancestry.com says so), and except for birth order and the Mom-and-Dad-liked-me-better thing, we had a pretty similar upbringing. So why such different stress mindsets? Is this something McGonigal will cover in her book?
If I had to guess...and this is my blog, so I do...our work situations are a factor here. Remember how I made a point of stating that Gauthier 2 is a nurse? She has spent years in a variety of increasingly responsible healthcare positions, keeping her under stress regularly during her workdays..
Gauthier 1, on the other hand, is a writer. I experience what might be described as punctuated stress. Stress shoots up when trying to meet a contractual deadline. It goes up when preparing for a professional presentation or having to make it. An editor leaves her publishing house. Should I follow her? Stressful. Cover letters for submissions require hours of stressful work, because a sentence phrased incorrectly could mean the difference between convincing an agent or editor to take a look or being passed over. Struggling to come up with new material for revisions? Stressful. But when those high stress moments are over, the stress is gone and I have long periods of working in comfort.
In The Upside of Stress, McGonigal says that "past stress teaches the brain and body how to handle future stress. Stress leaves an imprint on your brain that prepared you to deal with similar stress the next time you encounter it." "Psychologists," she says "call this stress inoculation. It's like a stress vaccine for your brain." "...going through stress makes you better at it..."
So I'm making the argument that the kind of stress Gauthier 2 has experienced over the years has made it possible for her to better handle it, and her ability to handle stress means she can better manage her time and do more. Evidently my kind of stress has done nothing for me.