The Brain Science of Stress and Performance
simplest cut of the brain, just two halves. In this case, you can cut it into three and cut it to seven. You can cut it into probably 30 parts, but for now we're gonna talk about the front brain and the back brain, and the front brain is your prefrontal cortex. This is relatively newly evolved, hasn't been around that long. It's where your executive function is, where language, judgment and all of your ethics and reason reside. This is the you you think you are, because it's relatively evolved late. It's slow relative to your background back brain we've had for a long time. You're a 1,000,000 reptile brain is very fast. It doesn't speak English. It doesn't have language. You have the limbic system. Amygdala is very emotional. Center is very fast compared to the front brain, and it's also the seat of your fight. Flight freeze, responses to stress and the seat of your intuition. Now the back brain takes roughly three hundreds of a second to respond to a stimulus front brain takes about 3...
/ of a second was much slower, but it's much more has much better judgment will just say that then you're back brain. And this is gonna matter later, as we think about how we respond to stress now. Ah, great metaphor for how these two parts of the marine work together. Is the writer on the back of an elephant, a tiny rider on the back of the elephant, with the rider being your front brain? Your mind, your conscious mind. It's rational. It's directive. It's analytical. It plans the elephant is your heart, your unconscious self. It's emotional, it's instinctive. And it is the seat of action. If you study psychology at all, you know you can convince people all day up here about something, and they can rationally agree with whatever that thing is. And they won't do anything unless they're emotionally instigated to do so. So pulling people to do stuff requires both half. They have to rationally agree, and then they have to be emotionally committed enough to actually get off their seat and do something. So you need both of these things. That's why the elephant metaphor works so well because that's the thing that's moving heavy objects and lifting things. So how does this work together? Well, everything's fine when it's calm the tiny rider is actually in chart. You think you're in charge in the tiny rider is in charge as long as you just moving through the jungle path nice and slow, you can turn left. You can turn right. You can back up. You can have it lift things. You can have a drink. Water. You are in charge as the rider until such a time as something happens. So who is in charge under stress? The elephant right? The lion roars, the mouse emerges. A sharp noise, A snarky comment from a co worker and the back brain takes over. Fight flight. Freeze. All the stress responses come. They're shunted up through your emotional system that doesn't really have language. And then when it catches up, your frontal cortex then decides what to do with this emotional stimulus response from the back brain. And if it is an axe murder or a lion roaring out of the jungle that it is perfectly adaptive to fight like hell, run like crazy or play dead. That is perfectly rational in the old world of thousands of years ago, where this kind of response emerged. It's not quite as adaptive if It's a snarky email or a side word from a co worker. If you marched down in full fight mode to shout into their cubicle about the thing that made you mad, that may not be as adaptive. But unfortunately, the elephant isn't smart enough to know the difference. It views all threats, basically as the same thing I need to do. One of these three things. I'm gonna fight. I'm gonna run. So now you avoid your coworker for the next three weeks. Probably also not adaptive. Or you just shut down entirely and you stop doing anything also. Probably not adaptive, great in history. Not so great in today's world. So what to do about this? Well, first, let's think about how we perform under stress. This is the Yerkes Dodson curve from 1908 has been around for a long time. We know how we as humans perform under stress and counter intuitively. We don't actually perform at our best when we're under low stress. Were un engaged, The writers fully in charge? Sure. Um but we're not at our very best under low stress. We need some level of stress to pull us into engagements are best sort of performances here in the middle of the curve. And if you're way over here, then you're definitely not performing your best so quick. Poll the room. How many here would say you need more stress in your life? Just not enough going on. We have one very rare. I have a task list for you. We'll get that to you later. Like and I have some stress I can offload to you. All right. How many are perfectly balanced, Have just enough sort of challenge of their life. And we got a couple okay? And then how many are over here? And there's just too much going on right now. Okay, a few of you. So it's keeping up for a second. So no, this is not a judgment. This just stating a fact. You are not right now. The best brother, sister, husband, friend, follower, leader that you could be. That is just a fact, not a judgment. And by the way, when I do, this room's up to 1000 people. It's usually 99%. It's the vast majority. People are actually not being their best Selves because there's too much going on and this is not a good thing. But the good news is there's ways to fix this now. What happens in most people's case is they try to get this thing this ephemeral dream of work, life balance back. And I suggest you that's actually not really possible, given your current levels of stress, your current level with the capacity. If things are not slowing down than how are you going to adapt to the even emerging greater stress that's coming your way? Well, so I think there's just a better way to solve this problem now. First, though, you may have done something that I played a game with for about 10 years. If you get over here and you overstress and you realize it, you might do this thing where you say, All right, I'm on too many committees of too many projects going on. There's just too many things going on in my life. I need a unwind myself from a few of these things. So you you get off a committee, you stop the homeowners association. You leave a project at work. Your differ something. You don't build a new house this week and and you claw your way back up to the middle, and then you get there in this moment of a deep breath and then because you're a super high achieving individual, you go and you build a new house. You have a baby, you start a new project, you switch jobs, you move and you take on something gigantic that puts you right back down over here and you slide down and then you wake up and realize you're way over stressed and you claw your way back saying what you did before you get here. You take a deep breath and you do it again and again and again, you just play the sliding game. I do this for about a decade, which is constantly overstressed and then climb my way back and then sliding right back down the moment I got some work life balance back. So if that's not the right answer than what ISS and I think, the better answer is simply to shift the curve up into the right. If you could do that, the place that used to have you over stressed is now actually your peak performance zone. And how is that possible? Well, it's curvy looks an awful lot like a bicep. Uh, what happens when you work a bicep? It grows right. It grows unless you do 15 hours of curls in a day. What happens if you do 15 hours of girls with no rest? It atrophies. That actually shrinks right? And the same is true for psychological stress. And this is what's happening in corporate America, I think is a lot of people. A lot of corporate athletes, as it were, are doing equipment of 15 hours of curls and wondering why their psychological stress profile is actually shrinking, not growing. They get more fragile without the proper recovery. So one of the steps will talk about is how do you recover from stress such that you can shift your curve up into the right and perform better under even greater stress. So that's what I would call resiliency. And how do we do that? Three steps. In the next half, I will teach you how to reduce stress. You already know some of this how to recover properly, which a lot of people don't know. And then finally, how do you reframe your relationship with stress to perform better under even greater duress and learn to like it. So that's what we're gonna do in this next bit. And that's what I'll call a definition resiliency here, how to shift that curve up into the right.