I just started reading Peak Performance, by Steve Magness and Brad Stulberg. Two chapters in, I’m thinking about stress and its role in performance.
According to the authors,

“A little doubt and uncertainty is actually a good thing: It signals that a growth opportunity has emerged.”

As a distance runner, I’ve benefited from the intentional stress I’ve placed on my body. I remember when I first started working with a coach, looking at my new training schedule, and thinking, “I don’t know if I can do that.” Or, “ohhh, that’s a lot of miles.” Most recently I’ve had similar thoughts in connection to races. I’m pretty uncertain (a bit nervous too) about a 50K that I committed to do in December. I still want to beat 4 hours in my next marathon. And I want to learn to coach others. Big goals.
This is the good kind of stress… the stress that leads to performance gains. The stress that allows you to look back over the past few years and say to yourself, “wow…just wow.” Looking back also reminds you of the importance of others in your life. It’s not possible to achieve big goals all on your own.
There is also the bad kind of stress. That intractable problem…health issue, relationship issue, work issue, family issue, neighbor issue kind of stress. These issues sometimes come on in subtle ways and grow slowly so that you don’t notice the problem until it threatens to engulf you. I recently went through a very stressful situation. This involved a person who wanted a level of relationship (friendship) that I could not give.
I’m not sure how long the problem was really present, but I noticed it over a year ago. Then then next year was oh so difficult. I struggled with what to do. I tried to find help, and received moral support (which was helpful), but I had to navigate my way through the morass on my own. It turns out that not many of us are equipped to deal with these types of difficult situations.
This is bad stress…that give you a sense of dread…that makes you want to re-think your purpose. It leads to weariness. Thankfully the situation has now been resolved. Maybe not in the best way…but in the only way that seems possible.
I’ve learned so much from it.
First, that good stress of running was what helped me work off the negative stress. Running has become such a spiritual, life-giving endeavor for me that when I have to take a few days off my coach gets to hear me whine about it.
Second, acting nice is not helpful. It is not advisable to put off the tough conversations because you don’t want to hurt feelings. To love your neighbor as Jesus calls us to do, is to sometimes tell your neighbor things he or she does not want to hear.
Third, even going through boundaries training doesn’t prepare you for small boundary violations. Or at least I was not prepared and didn’t recognize the issue right away. Re-establishing boundaries is hard to do. As a pastor, I’ve learned a valuable and painful lesson.
Fourth, community is very important. Although I felt as if I was asking repeatedly for help and not getting it, I was still not alone in the situation. Knowing that others knew what was happening, helped my to stay grounded, and to know that I wasn’t imagining the problem.
Fifth, having a completely separate group of friends also helps to lesson the stress (for me this means outside the church). When you’re with different friends in a different context, you’re able to think about and enjoy other things.
Six, I hadn’t realized how much this stress was affecting my job and I’m now looking forward to introducing some different…good…and life-enhancing stress into my work.
Today I’m personally grateful for: my supportive husband, family, and friends; the healthy outlet of marathon training; and good books.