In World War 2, despite having the highest mortality rate in the military, dogfighters were more happy with their jobs and felt less stress than almost every other division of troops. They believed that their piloting skill would determine their survival, not luck – they felt they were in complete control of their fate.
“In study after study, researchers have found that the most stressful occupations are those in which employees must deal not just with high demands, but with little control over their workdays.” (104)
Cultivating a strong internal locus of control is key to reducing stress in your life.
UC Irvine psychologist Salvatore Maddi claims to have found the three most important attitudes about stress, which he calls the “Three C’s”:
- Commitment: as stress mounts, remaining involved in the world instead of evading reality
- Control: realizing that you’re never helpless, even in the toughest circumstances
- Challenge: perceiving a crisis not as a threat, but as an opportunity for growth
“Under stress, our natural tendency is to forget about our surrounding environment and focus instead on the immediate threat. The more people can resist this and pay attention to what’s really happening, the better they do under fire.” (120-1)
“(Psychologist Anders Ericsson’s) work adds an important caveat…Not all experience will help you improve decision-making under stress…Experience needs two characteristics to be effective: it has to be challenging, focusing on your weaknesses, and it has to include feedback that allows you to fine-tune your approach.” (121)
“[R]ecent research has shown that when we’re nervous or threatened, (short-term memory) is the kind of memory that is most prone to falling apart.” (147)
“Performance pressure harms individuals most qualified to succeed by consuming the working memory capacity that they rely on for their superior performance.” (Beilock and Carr, 2005) (150)
“(NYU psychology professor Joshua) Aranson’s research has revealed that kids who are cued to believe they can improve their test scores with practice tend to see exams as a challenge rather than a threat, performing better – and feeling less anxiety – than those who see their brainpower as set in stone.” (151)
“I don’t think I’m any smarter than anyone else who’s done well on Jeopardy! – I think I just handle the pressure better. There’s stuff I come up with when I’m actually playing Jeopardy! that I wouldn’t get if if I were just watching it on TV. The adrenaline focuses me.” -Brad Rutter, Jeopardy! Ultimate Tournament of Champions winner
A bias that is the root of many people’s performance anxiety is the “illusion of transparency” bias – we tend to believe that our internal emotional states are more obvious to others than they truly are.
“It’s not a case of getting rid of the butterflies. It’s a question of getting them to fly in formation.” -Jack Donohue, former Canadian Olympic basketball coach
“Fueled by what psychologists have deemed ‘normalcy bias,’ humans in crisis have a troubling tendency to deny that anything out of the ordinary is going on.” (242)
In combat, you do not rise to the occasion – you sink to the level of your training.
-Dave Grossman, psychology intructor, West Point military academy