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I have observed many clients and discovered how easily they confuse Intensity with Stress. Most people that work in intense environments, have a temporary perception that intensity is “highly stressful”. At this moment, to a certain degree, one can begin to feel ineffectual or powerless on both a personal and professional level. This experience cascades (or projects) into everyday life in several ways, often as feelings of annoyance and/or irritation, making them temporarily mentally unavailable.

Effectively, Intensity is an ‘in the moment’ experience that manifests itself in the physical domain, i.e., distance, time, and form – the ultimate test of reality. Stress, however, exists in the emotional, mental, and intellectual realm as an interpretation, and therefore is not real. I believe stress is a human-invented interpretation that serves as a survival mechanism. It “labels” the difficult or challenging experience (situation?) and causes an “automatic” reaction in direct correlation to that situation. The perception of stress provides an explanation for the ability or inability to deal effectively with circumstances.

So the question is: How can two or more individuals who operate at the same level of intensity, in the same environment, have different interpretations, and therefore have a completely different experience, and reactions to it?

Example: One of my closest friends is an F-16 fighter jet pilot.  In our conversations, I learned that during operational flights, pilots are in a highly Intense environment. The intense environment manifests itself as various (extreme?) physical sensations such as heat, cold, G-force, or vertigo. For most of us, this environment would seem extremely stressful and it would feel impossible to function. However, for the trained pilot there is an insignificant experience of stress. For them flying a jet is equivalent to working in the office. How is this possible?

My observations led to the conclusion that the pilot was trained to be present – right now, right here. Pilots (their brains) are trained to suspend and/or not make the common interpretation that the “flight environment is stressful”. The pilot’s actions are appropriate and correlated to flying the jet, instead of experiencing emotions or intellectualizing them, which has nothing to do with the moment, right now, right here. Intensity is real while Stress is not real. After all, stress is just an interpretation, existing as a human-invented internal conversation mode. Human perception becomes a reality (at least for most of us). (comment: not sure this sentence belongs here)

Jet pilots train their brains to realize that stress is not real and “automatic” response to it is inappropriate. In other words, stress is an inadequate interpretation of the experience of intensity or of operation in an intense environment.

Why is this conversation so critical to the world of management?

In my professional opinion, today’s world of most senior managers, corporate executives, and business leaders is very similar to that of the pilot in the cockpit. The volume, complexity, and speed of the world around them are increasing at a rapid pace – i.e. the environment becomes highly intense. Their human operating system (their brain) cannot keep up, and before they know it, they can find themselves in “G-Force” situations very quickly. In the professional environment, this can mean losing their job, being demoted, or going out of business.

So what do we do with this internal conversation mode?

I created a few power tips that guide you to start developing prowess and best practices to overcome this paradigm.

  •       Know and train your brain that the reality and your experience of reality are two different occurrences altogether. Doing your job and your experience of doing your job are two distinct things.
  • Look at things the way they are. Do not add anything or subtract anything. The sky is blue, the grass is green, and you are 6’1” tall.
  • If you experience emotions such as frustration, anger, resentfulness, etc., realize that at that moment, temporarily, you are disconnected from reality (went away); you are now in the “Stress Zone.” Get back!
  • If the desired results and/or outcomes in any given moment are not correlated to your intentions and actions, stop! Apply the 60-second rule, step back, and get yourself centered. Evaluate the facts and information you have, refocus, and purposefully re-engage.
  • Nothing is wrong!  Things are the way they are, you do not have to like it, agree with it, believe in it, or stand for it. You just need to understand (or recognize) what is happening.
  • You are human, and to counter an automatic response to intense situations is against human nature. It will take a lifetime of training and practice to master it. The moment you stop training yourself, it will go away and disappear, and you will be back on the downward spiral very quickly.

You can use these guidelines to start developing your toolbox of best practices that work for you. There is no ‘one size fits all’ solution, we have different DNAs. What works for one does not necessarily work for another. Be creative.

So, are you stressed now or just intense?