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Filtering by Tag: Stress

The Right Fit - Taking Fear Out Of The College Application Equation

Phil Meehan

"If I just get into the XYZ College or ABC University, my life will be great." Ever heard this or felt this way? Underneath this statement lurks the thought process that “If I don’t get into XYZ, life will be bad.”  Fear has always been one of the most powerful motivating forces: Think “fight or flight” when a large predator provided the motivation to not become dinner. When you stop to consider it, you know that the fear of not getting into one of the top universities in the world isn’t the same thing as being chased by a lion, tiger or bear, but our brains do not. When that fear is with you constantly, the stress is unhealthy.

Stress can be a positive motivator and moderate level of it will work in the short term. I remember being quite motivated to meet deadlines for papers; a little bit of adrenalin helped to keep me awake until it was done. But there’s a ton of research explaining the negative long-term consequences of a constant stressful state such as insomnia and a lowering of cognitive ability. (1)

The strange thing is that attending XYZ college is not at all a precursor to a “great life”. The reality is that there are almost 10 000 Colleges and Universities worldwide and gaining acceptance to the top 10 (you know the ones!) is an achievement closer to becoming an Olympic athlete than a well-rounded student. In fact, even when it comes to future financial earnings, studies show that there is little difference between universities (1). That’s not to say that future success is measured by $, but for some people that’s what matters. Finding the right college or university for you is much more important than attending the best college or university as determined by a magazine or website.

What about you?

  • An interesting experiment:  Take 10 minutes and imagine yourself five or ten years from now. In a perfect world, what is your life like? What are you doing? How are you spending your time?  Who are the people in your life? Write it down. Be as specific as possible.
  • Once you’ve finished, give some thought to what you can do today to help make that happen? What kind of College/University/Other experience would help? 

It bears repeating: Finding the right college or university for you is much more important than attending the best college or university as determined by a magazine or website. Next time you meet with your school’s college and career advisor, be sure to talk to them about what type of school will help you to best reach your goals. Rather than the best name, what type of school is your best fit?


How To Make Stress Work For You

Phil Meehan

First thing’s first – stress is not a bad thing. In fact, it is how we know we’re alive. Stress is anything that shifts your balance. It is the excitement of a crush and it helps get things done when a deadline is looming. 

For over a hundred years a simple way to see the relationship between stress and productivity has been the Yerkes Dodson curve (1). Think of an upside down U.

On the left you have low stress and low productivity. On the right you have high stress and low productivity. In the middle, you have what some researchers call “flow”, or the peak productivity. Can you remember a time when you were so completely immersed in something that you lost track of time? Maybe it was working with a group on a interesting art project, playing your favourite video game or programming? That’s the top of the curve. Now, it might be hard to reach the top studying for your next test, but how can you ensure that you are not at either extreme: bored or burned-out?

When I talk with people about stress, I often use the analogy of a bucket with a tap near the bottom. The bucket is your capacity to deal with stress. Your stress is what is filling the bucket and it can never be empty (because the tap isn’t at the very bottom, and if you have no stress, you wouldn’t be alive!). 

Solution Focussed Stress Bucket

This is a simple exercise and can be really helpful to look back on when you find your bucket nearing the top…

A-    List the things that fill up your bucket. What goes on in your life that adds stress, both good and bad? It may be family, friends, school, extra-curriculars, thinking about the future.

B-    Next, list the things that happen when your bucket overflows. When you have “had it up to here”, what do you do, what happens?

C-    Lastly, and this is the really important one, what are the things that you do or have done in the past to turn on the tap and empty your bucket? What are the healthy things that you do to relieve stress?

When you write it all down, you might find patterns, like you tend to lose your patience with your sister less on days you have training for your sport. You also might find that you are better able to deal with unexpected stresses when you’ve spent a few hours taking photos.

When it comes to stress, balance is key. It’s important to understand what it is in your life that fills up your bucket, but also what you do, and can do more of, to empty the bucket.

As for FLOW, not many things that fall under "need to do" will get you into that really rockin' space. But if you think about how you work as a relationship between stress and productivity, there are things that you can do to have stress work for you. Boring tasks can be pretty predictable, so the next time you find yourself preparing to work on something you know will put you in the "bored" range, why not add in a little bit of (good) stress? How about:

  • giving yourself a positive incentive to work towards once you have finished the task, like a piece of chocolate or 20 minutes of video games.
  • give yourself a consequence, like asking your little brother to come in when the timer goes off at the time you expect to be done and throw, I don't know, his dirty socks at you if you are still working on xyz. Ok, maybe that's just gross, but probably a good motivator. And imagine how excited he would be!
  • I'm sure you can come up something that would work for you... I would love to hear it in the comments below!



(1)  Goleman, Dan. "The Sweet Spot for Achievement." Psychology Today. N.p., 29 Mar. 2012. Web.

(2)   Henden, John. "Beating Combat Stress: 101 Techniques for Recovery." Wiley, Jan. 2011.

Stress Quiz from The Greater Good Science Centre: