Stress Less. Achieve More.: Simple Ways to Turn Pressure into a Positive Force in Your Life

Stress Less. Achieve More.: Simple Ways to Turn Pressure into a Positive Force in Your Life

by Aimee Bernstein


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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780814433836
Publisher: AMACOM
Publication date: 02/11/2015
Pages: 256
Sales rank: 513,625
Product dimensions: 5.90(w) x 8.90(h) x 0.70(d)
Age Range: 18 Years

About the Author

AIMEE BERNSTEIN, president of Open Mind Adventures, is a change accelerator and coach focused on leadership and personal development. Her clients have included executives from Dolce Gabanna, The Ritz Carlton, Microsoft, NASA, Intel, and others.

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Stress Less. Achieve More.

Simple Ways to Turn Pressure Into a Positive Force in Your Life

By Aimee Bernstein


Copyright © 2015 Aimee Bernstein
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-0-8144-3383-6



Understanding Pressure from a New Perspective

Progress might have been all right once, but it has gone on too long.

—Ogden Nash

"I'm buried in work," bemoans my friend Ben, an attorney specializing in elderly issues.

"I'm glad you're making money," I say. "Living in Marin County, California, with a wife and two preteen daughters, you had better be bringing in the big bucks," I tease.

"Yeah, I'm doing okay," he halfheartedly agrees. A long pause ensues.

"Are you?" I ask gently. "Many people in business tell me that they're buried in their work. That's scary. 'Buried' is such a negative image, an inability to breathe, compression, and contraction. And the images 'stretched thin' conjures up aren't pretty either."

Ben says nothing. He's come a long way from the twenty-one-year-old I met decades ago when he eked out a living as a freelance researcher. In those days, he wouldn't think twice about taking a walk in the woods during the day instead of staying glued to his desk. Finally, he declares, "I love my work," pauses again, then says, "I just wish it wasn't so relentless."

That's the rub for many of us. According to statistics only 25 percent of us love our work, but even if we are among the fortunate who do, the constant pressures wear us down. We are besieged by information with the expectation that we are available 24/7 and know the right answer the moment we are called on to make a decision. The unspoken assumption is that we will handle constant demands and interruptions with ease while being psychologically astute enough to coach the smiling, backstabbing employee who wants our job or the associate having an emotional meltdown in our office. When we don't rise to these expectations, we feel bad about ourselves or angry.

In addition, instead of technology making our lives easier and giving us more free time, many of us become addicted to it, spending countless hours not only at work but at home on email, social media, and our smartphones. Furthermore, we know we need to spend more time with our families or carve out time for a social life, yet, as Ben said, "it's all so relentless" that it's hard to find the time.

At work, many of the jobs we want to do get pushed to the back burner while the have-to-dos continually tug at us. So we run faster and rely too often on our willpower and force to get through the day, which exhausts us. In the process, the joy of work often dissipates, as does our deep connection with ourselves. Perhaps when we dream of a higher quality of life, we tell ourselves to be grateful that we have a job, and, of course, that's true. But what a cost we pay!

As Scott Barrett, a successful and now balanced leader, relates:

"I had the opportunity to climb the ladder and get very high. When I was in my mid-thirties, I was the president of a billion dollar company with 50,000 employees. When I got to the top of the ladder, I realized I had pretty much destroyed my family, my relationship with my wife, and didn't really have a relationship with my faith. I asked myself, where do I go from here? What did I gain? We all get that wake-up call. It's a matter of whether we are going to listen to it. For me, the knock had to be pretty loud."

If we choose to listen, the body provides plenty of clues. Under continuous demands and pressure, the thinking mind works overtime. After a while, it becomes less efficient and harder to turn off. Sleep patterns may become disturbed; worry, doubts, and fears may arise; and depression or violent behavior may emerge. In its debilitated state, the body breaks down and disease occurs. However, it doesn't have to be this way. Later in his career, Scott became the chief information officer for a large public firm. His experience working with Wayne Huizenga, then chairman and chief executive of the company, birthed these observations:

"It doesn't matter if you are the CEO of the company or a programmer. How you handle pressure and the activity going on around you matters. I learned a lot about handling pressure from Wayne. He could be there before everybody started in the morning and after everybody left. He went from meeting to meeting dealing with a broad range of issues. The pace was rapid, yet it neither restricted nor bothered him. There was never any friction. He just dealt with each issue that came up and was pleasant to be with all the time; his demeanor never changed. And a tremendous amount got done.

"Later, another man took over the presidency. He worked just as long and as hard as Wayne; meetings still started at 5:00 or 6:00 am. Over time, the job took its toll on him physically and emotionally. Did you ever see the before and after pictures of U.S. presidents? It was like that. He came in looking okay but six months later, he looked like death warmed over. All the activity, the pace, and the pressure were dragging on him. It wasn't frictionless. His dealings with people suffered as well because he was worn down."

Each of us has a habitual way of responding when the pressure builds. Some of us lose our strength and collapse while others resist and harden. Then there are those who either have a natural ability to be strong under pressure or have learned this skill. Without knowing it, they reconfigure their brains to avoid being flooded by cortisol, the stress hormone. Now that's a very good thing since cortisol can shrink brain mass, take ten years off your life, and negatively affect your organs, not to mention your ability to get along with others. Those who are very skilled at handling stressors can even trigger the release of serotonin, the well-being hormone, and that attitude can be transmitted to others by what you say and do. However, for those who have little skill in transforming pressure into a positive force, it not only negatively affects them, it can affect those around them. To begin to change these patterns, we need to understand pressure from a new perspective.


Although some call this century the Information Age, I believe at its core, it is the Energy Age. Just as the Internet and satellite systems have changed the nature of information exchange, lasers, acupuncture, and ultrasound as well as apps that read such things as high blood pressure and the electrical activity of the heart are transforming medicine. Quantum physicists recognize that humans are energy beings living in a sea of energy. They acknowledge that solid objects are composed of both particles and waves. Biologists recognize the telepathic communication of animals, and psychologists have validated the ability of humans to intuit and communicate in this way. Furthermore, there is a growing understanding that certain places and people have a negative effect on the immune system while others seem to support well-being. Increasingly, scientists recognize that to understand ourselves, simply studying physical structure is often not enough; we must also study the patterns and flows of our intrinsic energy, which give rise to the physical structure. For this reason in our discussion of how to use pressure as a positive force, we will examine the physical, emotional, behavioral, and energetic aspects of who we are. For now, let's begin by defining pressure.

Pressure Redefined

Imagine that in five minutes you will present a speech to thousands of people. In the audience are your boss, colleagues, family members, love interests, and everyone you would like to impress but may not even know. As you pretend, pay attention to your thoughts and what is going on in your body. Now let's imagine that in thirty seconds you will take your place on the stage and the curtain will rise. From behind the curtain, you spot President Obama and the First Lady walking into the hall. Can you feel the rush? How would you describe what is going on now in your mind and body? Are you comfortable in your skin or would you rather be fishing?

Whether or not you like performing, being on stage usually calls up a great deal of energy. Common effects include sweaty palms, racing heart, wobbly legs, the inability to catch your breath, and an adrenalin rush that does not feel like it can be controlled or contained. More profound life experiences such as war, birth, the death of a loved one, and natural and unnatural disasters turn the barometer up exponentially. These experiences are so powerful that they sometimes shatter us.

Extreme experiences are not the only ones that call up energy; everyday occurrences may also push us off balance. Think about the promotion that didn't come, the stack of unpaid bills, or the dates who said you were nice but not their type. Then again, think about the excitement you felt when the new client chose you, not your competitor; your first hot sports car; or the sudden realization that your creative idea is not only good, it rocks. It makes no difference whether these situations were good or bad, whether they were planned or sudden, acute or chronic, internally or externally driven. Each of them calls up energy through your mind/body/energy field. Some are big rushes, some are smaller flows, and some you may not even notice. Some may feel good and some may not. Nevertheless, in each experience, you are dancing with the pressure of life.

According to Webster's dictionary, pressure is the "exertion of force (strength, energy, power) upon a surface by an object, fluid, etc. in contact with it." Words, feelings, actions, situations, and environments contain energy or power that "exert a force" upon our mind/body system.

Usually we think about pressure negatively as a weighted sense of concentrated energy that is pushing on us. "I want to see you in my office," your boss says and, even if you have done nothing wrong, you just may notice your muscles tighten. Walk into a room where people are stressed and you'll probably start feeling tense. Isolate yourself, and you still may feel the pressure created by your own thoughts or perhaps by a slight imbalance you can't even name. We are constantly being affected by the energies we come in contact with whether we are aware of them or not.

Although we may seek pressureless environments to relax in or ways to distract ourselves from pressure, without pressure we may not have any drive or direction. Pressure then can be a very good thing. As exemplified by the earlier observation of Wayne Huizenga, sometimes pressure is a concentrated force of energy that propels us and generates high performance, keener perceptions, and an enhanced quality of life. It all depends on how we relate to it. Furthermore, one person's pressure is another's pleasure and vice versa. "I love cold calling," a sales manager told me. "I love the hunt, the seduction, the win." "It's the least favorite part of my job," another confessed. "I like to build relationships and build my business on word of mouth." Pressure then is our personal experience of concentrated energy encountering our mind/body system.

High performance under pressure begins with celebrating pressure as the energy of life and the energy of change. When we ease away from the habit of trying to master life by controlling or resisting it, we transform pressure from an enemy into an ally. Instead of being our number one excuse for bad behavior, pressure empowers us to become the next best version of who we really are.


Whenever we are faced with a task, energy in the amount equal to the job immediately streams through our mind/body system to help us accomplish it. If we align with and are open to this flow of energy, we experience a power and aliveness that allow us to accomplish our task efficiently and effectively. At these times, we become energized by our work. Some call this "being in the zone." When we do not line up with this flow or when we resist it, we experience stress and are less able to perform. We may say then that the flow of life is like a river; the individual is a swimmer in it. When we swim with the current, it helps us; when we turn against the current, we feel stressed. What matters is not whether we are under pressure—we always are. It is how much pressure we are under and how we relate to it that matters.

The Conventional Approach to Handling Pressure

For those people ready to change their limited approach to pressure, modern medicine extols the virtues of diet, exercise, and meditation for reducing stress. If you've tried these approaches, you know they work. However, given our hectic schedules and the high-pressure world we live in, do they work well enough? The simple answer is NO.

First, they require us to take time away from work to practice them. For most of us, that's unrealistic. We're just too busy and most workplaces unfortunately still consider time away from the action as unproductive.

Second, the state of consciousness required for relaxation does not always transfer well to other activities or situations in our lives. For most of us, it's too easy for the well-being we find in the yoga class to dissipate in the face of highway gridlock, and too easy for the balance and strength we discover in the gym to evaporate the moment we are taken to task by our boss. Why is that?

Stress reduction methods imprint a new neural pathway on the nervous system, but when you are under a great deal of pressure, it is likely to trigger your old reactive pattern. As it is a more deeply imprinted pattern, it is stronger than your newer response.

Furthermore, states of consciousness depend on the body and brain's level of arousal, which changes constantly throughout the day. When we are fearful or excited, the brain processes information more quickly and our heart rate, sweat levels, and other autonomic activities speed up. When we relax, these rates slow. How we store and later retrieve memories is connected to these arousal levels. Therefore, we remember events best when we are in the same arousal state as when we experienced them. This makes the deep relaxation we experience in meditation, for example, challenging to access while in our everyday state of consciousness and even harder when we are very upset. It is as if a level of amnesia exists between one state of arousal and another.

The Twenty-First Century Approach to Handling Pressure

However, imagine what you could accomplish if you were able to access different states of consciousness at will. Jim Dixon, a former Vietnam helicopter pilot and president of such companies as Nextel, Cellular One, and McCaw's Southeast Region, as well as a student of aikido, shared his experience:

"Years ago, we tested our telecommunications system for the first time with a group of financial analysts from all over the country. Given the publicity that would ensue, it was a high-risk move. And our team really felt the pressure because we had experienced a series of setbacks and last-minute efforts to bring about this demonstration conference call. We were in the middle of the conference call when the call dropped. It was my worst fear come true.

"While the technical team tried to reestablish the call, I felt immense pressure; it was as if I was facing an attacker. I quickly composed myself by simply reverting to my aikido training. My body remembered how to dissipate the energy, how to continue breathing deeply, and how to stay focused on the task at hand.

"The call was connected, and it proceeded extremely well. Afterward, we received excellent technical marks and, surprisingly, high praise for how well the management team handled the crisis: 'They seemed unflappable ... they didn't even blink in the face of potential disaster.'

"In that moment, I had to be highly effective in the midst of chaos, and something automatically kicked in. Not a mental process; frankly, the words would have taken too long. I didn't consciously order myself to do it, but I let myself do it by allowing the patterns imprinted in my nervous system through the aikido practices to take over. It was similar to being in command in a combat situation. There are moments when you just have to have it together. I am sure the very basic aikido practices trigger a natural ability that is within us all."


Think about the leaders you most admire. Most likely, it's not their authority, title, or even their intellect that makes you want to follow them. Instead, it's their authenticity and ability to be masters of themselves even under the most turbulent conditions. Such leaders are not egocentric but choose to serve the greater good. Instead of being unmovable in their positions, they can take a stance while still maintaining an open-minded, spacious presence. These extraordinary leaders are focused, emotionally intelligent, decisive, and skillful in action. They inspire trust, engage, and uplift people because who they are, what they say, and how they behave are consistent. They don't just talk about leadership; they embody it, even under pressure.


Excerpted from Stress Less. Achieve More. by Aimee Bernstein. Copyright © 2015 Aimee Bernstein. Excerpted by permission of AMACOM.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Table of Contents


Acknowledgments xiii

Introduction: Make Friends with Pressure: Following the Clues 1

1. Run Deeper, Not Faster: Understanding Pressure from a New Perspective 9

2. Don’t Believe Everything You Think: Moving Beyond the Limitations of Your Personality Type 31

3. You Can’t Get There from Not Here: Where Is Your Attention? 55

4. Function from Your Center: Preserving Your Integrity Under Pressure 75

5. When Things Are Bad, Envision Your Best: Extending Your Energy for High Performance and Creativity 95

6. Size Matters: Becoming as Big as the Job 117

7. Gain Control by Giving It Up: Resolving Conflicts Harmoniously 137

8. Nobody Does It Alone: Taking Your Heart to Work 163

9. Spark Creative Solutions in High-Pressure Situations: Listening Is More Than Hearing 189

Conclusion: You Reach Your Destiny in Spite of Yourself 215

Resources 225

Notes 229

Index 233

About the Author 241

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Stress Less. Achieve More.: Simple Ways to Turn Pressure into a Positive Force in Your Life 5 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 1 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Here is a gem of a book that both engages and informs. In our multi-tasking, over scheduled lives, stress is a constant for all of us. Rather than simply wearing our helmets and staying low, Ms. Bernstein shows us another way: harnessing the energy of stress to perform more effectively in our business and personal lives. With an entertaining writing style, she offers practices that are simultaneously simple and profound. She gives the reader tools to identify the personality and coping style of ourselves and those around us, which lead to more effective and compassionate methods of dealing with challenging co-workers and those loved ones who push our buttons. After just the first few chapters, I felt more energized and better equipped to line up to, rather than shrink from, stress.