Work without Stress: A book review by Bob Morris

9781259642968_p0_v1_s118x184-1Work without Stress: Building a Resilient Mindset for Lasting Success
Derek Roger and Nick Petrie
McGraw Hill Education (November 2016)

How and why a resilient mindset can help almost anyone to achieve personal growth and professional development

There will always be work-related pressure – often self-imposed – but I agree with Derek Roger and Nick Petrie that stress can be substantially reduced (if not eliminated) by developing a resilient mindset. Almost anyone can do that. Contrary to what many people think, to what “they say,” Roger and Petrie assert that resilience “is not about keeping your head above water but realizing that there’s no water to keep your head above.” It is the ability to negotiate the rapids of life without becoming stressed. That is especially important in today’s business world, one that seems to become more volatile, more uncertain, more complex, and more ambiguous than at any prior time that I can remember.

With regard to mindfulness, a concept on which Ellen Langer has conducted research for several decades, it is widely viewed as a means by which to make people less unhappy in order to improve their performance. Here is a baker’s dozen of her observations:

o Stress is a function not of events, but of our view of those events.

o What we have learned to look for in a situation determines mostly what we see.

o There is always a step small enough from where we are to get us to where we want to be. If we take that small step, there’s always another we can take, and eventually a goal thought to be too far to reach becomes achievable.

o Life consists only of moments, nothing more than that. So if you make the moment matter, it all matters

o Not only do we as individuals get locked into single-minded views, but we also reinforce these views for each other until the culture itself suffers the same mindlessness.

o Certainty is a cruel mindset. It hardens our minds against possibility.

o Virtually all of life’s ills boil down to mindlessness. If you can understand someone else’s perspective, then there’s no reason to be angry at them, envy them, steal from them.

o When people are not in the moment, they’re not there to know that they’re not there.

o People are at their most mindful when they are at play. If we find ways of enjoying our work blurring the lines between work and play the gains will be greater.

o Out of an intuitive experience of the world comes a continuous flow of novel distinctions. Purely rational understanding, on the other hand, serves to confirm old mindsets, rigid categories. Artists, who live in the same world as the rest of us, steer clear of these mindsets to make us see things anew.

[This last comment reminds me of a passage in T.S. Eliot’s classic work, Four Quartets: “We shall not cease from exploration, and the end of all our exploring will be to arrive where we started and know the place for the first time.”]

o We should open ourselves to the impossible and embrace a psychology of possibility.

o The rules you were given were the rules that worked for the person who created them.

o To be mindfully engaged is the most natural, creative state we can be in.

Roger and Petrie offer a somewhat different approach to using mindfulness principles: “Ask the fundamental question that the word implies: what is your mind full of? If you’re stressed, your mind is full of negative ruminative thoughts. You may simply be preoccupied with what you might do next weekend, and you are not ruminating about emotional upsets at all…The key to being awake [i.e. mindful of the context of our circumstances] is [begin italics] attention [end italics], or rather keeping control of attention. Our attention gets snatched away, but we can learn to exercise control over it.”

These are among the several dozen passages of greatest interest and value to me, also listed to suggest the scope of Roger and Petrie’s coverage:

o Resilience and coping (Pages 11-14)
o Rumination compared to reflection (15-19 and 70-71)
o Behavior signaling everyday stress (16-17)
o Resilience and mindfulness (19-20)
o Resilience in leadership (39-40 and 141-142)
o Presence of mind in leadership (43-44)
o Control over attention (47-48 and 117-118)
o Acute stress as pressure (58-59)
o Letting go and detachment (75-76)
o Willingness to disclose emotions (105-106)
o Happiness influenced by control (115-116)
o Management and connection (147-148)
o Planning (153-154)
o Factorial validation (172-173)
o Scales of validity (173-174)
o Emotional Control Questionnaire (175-176)
o The Physiology of Stress: The HPA Axis (176-179)

The material in this book will be of incalculable value to business leaders who are determined to establish and then nourish a workplace culture within which personal growth and professional development are most likely to thrive. As already explained, pressure (especially self-imposed pressure) is inevitable in any workplace culture whereas stress can be avoided or eliminated by those with a resilient mindset. Derek Roger and Nick Petrie: “The key message from our approach is that stress is not an inherent part of life.” It is important to keep in mind that acute stress is actually pressure, not stress. “Chronic stress is what causes damage, and apart from relatively rare circumstances of constant actual demand, what makes demand chronic is rumination.”

For some business leaders, this may well prove to be the most important book about management that they will ever read both in terms of their own personal growth and professional development and in terms of the personal growth and professional development they help to achieve for others.

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