How to manage stress for peak performance

Beat stress by raising your Positive Intelligence score

It’s not possible – or desirable – to eliminate stress. In fact, research shows a certain amount of stress can sharpen your focus and help you be more creative and productive. It’s also true that too much or badly managed stress impairs thinking and productivity and, ultimately, puts you or your team at risk of burn out.

One of the goals of the Positive Intelligence coaching program is to help individuals and teams embrace stress and other negative emotions as an alert signal only. When you harness stress effectively it’s possible to turn what feel like stressful situations into opportunities for growth and realizing your potential. It means that when you need to transform your business, for example, or your team needs to put together a winning sales pitch, you’ll all be performing at your peak.

Does your mind act more as your friend or as your enemy?

When we have stressful thoughts, the survival part of our brain (where our Mind Saboteurs live) is hard at work. We feel anxious and start rehashing past mistakes or catastrophizing about the future. We are not present and can’t think or focus calmly, clearly, creatively or empathetically.

As Shirzad Chamine explains in his book Positive Intelligence, your mind is both your best friend and your worst enemy. You can even measure the relative strength of these two modes of your mind. A high positive intelligence score (when it’s expressed as a percentage it’s called a Positive Intelligence Quotient or PQ) means your mind acts as your friend far more than as your enemy. Low PQ is the reverse.

Boosting your PQ allows you to activate those parts of your mind that act in your best interest faster. For example, when your mind alerts you to the need to prepare for an important presentation, then it is acting in your best interest. But, if you’re awake all night with anxious thoughts of failure spiraling around your head, it is acting as your enemy. When your mind keeps you in that ‘I must prepare for my presentation’ mode, it is still not really helping you because you’re not using your whole brain and you’re not happy.

You can’t banish all negative thoughts, you can choose a positive mindset instead

Research suggests that a PQ of around 75% is the tipping point. That means your brain is working positively (or serving you) around 75% of the time – below that and you’re being dragged down. Yet, around 80% of teams and individuals score below 75%; adversely affecting both performance and happiness.

Using resets/PQ reps to manage stress

You can’t simply think your way out of stress. In fact, the harder you think, the more you activate your survivor brain and the worse it gets. Instead, we need to activate our Sage Mind – the middle prefrontal cortex that generates positive emotions, such as calmness, clarity and focus.

Doing resets/PQ reps is a bit like going to the gym. But instead of building biceps you’re strengthening your Sage Mind muscles. PQ reps include breathing techniques and focused sensory exercises. When you practice these regularly and consistently, they reactivate your Sage Mind; this helps you to think calmly and clearly, creatively, empathetically and to stay in the present moment.

Here are some scenarios where boosting your PQ will help you manage stress, be present and improve your effectiveness, happiness and relationships.

1. Your Judge Saboteur says X = Success and Y = Failure

Sometimes we get stressed because our Judge Saboteur tells us X needs to happen for us to feel successful. X could be a particular outcome like a client win, promotion or annual bonus, for example. If X doesn’t happen, we feel we’re a failure.

Spencer Silver, the brilliant mind behind the invention of post-it notes, is a good example. Initially, he saw his invention as a big failure (a Y outcome) because he had been trying to create a strong glue. To his mind, creating the glue would have been the successful (X) outcome.

The reality is these are all just events and our mind tells us if they are good or bad. In fact, you can turn all events into a gift or opportunity in the future if you are present and in your Sage Mind.

How to activate your Sage Mind

Do a reset/PQ reps, and ask yourself: ‘What if the worst case scenario actually happens?’

Now apply the following three-gift technique:

  • What knowledge will I get that could help me in the future?
  • What mental strength or power, such as empathy or confidence, will I develop and how will this serve me?
  • What might it inspire me to do that I would not have done otherwise?

2. Your Pleaser Saboteur puts everyone else’s needs before your own

Lots of people have a Pleaser Saboteur. There’s nothing wrong with being caring and giving. But if you take it too far, you’ll feel stressed and overwhelmed because your own needs are unfulfilled.

How to activate your Sage Mind

Do some resets/PQ reps then contemplate yourself saying no to this person, giving them firm feedback or establishing boundaries. Remember, this isn’t selfish; you are giving them a gift, letting them grow and empowering them. See it as a way of caring for others as it reduces their dependency on you and it allows you to do those things that have a higher priority for you.

3. Your High Achiever Saboteur believes ‘I’ll be happy when…’

Many high achievers tell themselves they’ll be happy when they achieve the next big thing. The truth is there is no end to the next big thing required and the happiness is short lived. This way of thinking causes constant stress along the way to whatever it is you’re trying to achieve.

How to activate your Sage Mind

Do resets/PQ reps then approach the situation as if it is just a game. Contemplate what is interesting and enjoyable in each step of the journey. Shift your focus away from the final outcome.

Paradoxically this orientation means you’re more likely to achieve your desired outcome because you’re less stressed about it. Even if you don’t get the outcome you want, you’ll be able to convert that failure into a gift or opportunity. You can also feel grateful for the positive experience.

Shirzad Chamine covers Mind Saboteurs and Sage Mind in more detail in his book Positive Intelligence. As a certified Positive Intelligence coach, I help individuals and teams strengthen their Sage Mind to achieve peak performance, happiness and healthier relationships.

Curious about what your PQ score is?

Find out your PQ score in 2 mins here