Good Stress and Bad Stress, Part III

Before going further, I would like to thank all readers.

This site began only recently but it has already a good variety of articles on nutrition, exercise, mental health, rest & recovery and more. There are >5500 followers from over 50 countries. More importantly, a special thank you to those who take the extra step to comment. Every comment makes it worthwhile, and gives me more reason to care. My long term goal is to create a solid community around the art of healthy and happy living. I now see a clear way to achieve this both online and offline. So again, thanks for being there! I’ll make sure to make it a worthwhile journey 🙂

Now back to our series about good and bad stress.

In the first post, I covered the foundations of good stress and bad stress. In the second post, I then wrote how we can mix stress frequency, intensity and diversity to achieve goals.

The graph above was in the previous post. It’s a simple representation of stress and I want to talk more about the minimum and the ceiling

The minimum (0 on the graph) is the state of boredom and apathy. This is a dangerous state. We want to escape this state. The easiest action is passive entertainment. Why do the hard thing when the void can be filled with noise right away?

Trying to escape the state of boredom and apathy is similar to taking off from a runway. The plane is loaded with weight. Attempts to take off can fail. Gravity won’t let you go if you don’t have enough speed, i.e. escape velocity. That’s the danger.

Escaping Apathy

How do you escape boredom and apathy?  A good solution is learning new skills. We are very fortunate in having a large variety of free online classes on coursera or edX. These come from MIT, Harvard, Carnegie Millon or the best European or Asian universities. You can choose language courses, economics, sports medecine, biology or computer science. If online learning is not for you, then most cities have free public libraries for self continued education. Get a book and see how you can apply knowledge in your work.

If learning new skills is the engine to escape velocity, I see challenges as the fuel. Challenges come in many forms : races, awards, projects, competitions in different fields. They give you a clear and difficult goal that requires hard work and apply those new skills.

How do you make time for all this? Data shows that we spend a lot of time on passive entertainment. The average american watches 5 hours of TV per day. Add digital entertainment such as smartphone apps and video games and that’s a lot of hours you can gain back every day. Cut on passive entertainment and then you will find good time to learn, work on challenges, and ultimately get the necessary velocity to take-off

Reaching Mastery

If the bottom is boredom and apathy, on the other side we find a state of mastery. It’s a state of deep satisfaction.

This can take a lifetime to reach. It can also take just a few years with focus.

Have you heard of Hick’s Law? I always remember it when I want to undertake a new project or task. This law states:

Increasing the number of choices will increase the processing time logarithmically

Logarithmically is the keyword here. It means we cannot process well a large number of mental choices. The human being is functioning better when we only have one thing to do.

If you have 10 running shoes, it will take you a lot of time to choose the best running shoes for the day. If you only have 1 or 2, it will be much quicker on the other hand. Less is better. This is a basic example. You can extend it to to-do lists, projects, books or anything else you are doing. It is the same : more is not better, less is better. Ultimately, Hick’s Law tell us to simplify and get rid of choices that drag us down. Imagine if you get rid of distractions and all the “stuff” you’ve amassed in the last years, you will reach an unparalleled level of focus. Benefits are exponential. And I believe that’s how you reach the state of mastery in just a few years compared to those who seem to never get there.

Here’s a summary of the “Good Stress, Bad Stress” series:

  • Stress is a natural physical reaction
  • Stress lets us perform and react to our environment
  • Bad stress is the kind of stress we cannot control. We need to find a way to eliminate all of them. Pollution, noise, emotional stress etc.
  • Good stress is the kind of stress we can act on and change the outcome. This can be work, physical training, education etc.
  • We can give ourselves stressors and even play on the diversity, frequency and intensity so we don’t burnout. This guarantees our work always stays interesting, every day
  • Learning new skills and undertaking challenges is a great way to start the engine and find flow
  • But make sure to be focused ! The worst is to undertake many projects at the same time. Do one, or at most, two projects at a time.

I hope you found the series interesting and gave you food for thought.

1 thought on “Good Stress and Bad Stress, Part III”

  1. Outcome references is looking so very professional, you have done a great public service. I just showed it to my parents and they found it extremely helpful. Thanks for all your hard work! It couldn’t have been easy to curate such a diverse amount of information.


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