How Can Entrepreneurs Manage ‘Microstress’? This Latest Book Goals to Help


The next is a Q&A with Rob Cross and Karen Dillon, coauthors of the brand new book “The Microstress Effect: How Little Things Pile Up and Create Big Problems—and What to Do about It

How did the thought of “microstress” come about for this book?

In the middle of doing a series of interviews with high achievers in regards to the practices that allow them to be effective collaborators, we stumbled onto something surprising. Because they’d been identified by their organizations as high performers, we expected all of them to be sailing through life more easily than the remaining of us. That’s not what we found. A lot of them were powder kegs of stress. But most of them didn’t recognize it.

During our interviews, many choked up or broke down into tears, lamenting that they couldn’t see a path out of feeling like they were just barely holding all of it together. We were accustomed to the type of recognizable stress that prime performers can endure to attain their skilled goals. But this was something completely different. It was stress, but in a form that neither they – or we – had the language to articulate.

What became clear as we talked is that it was never one big thing that led people to the sensation of being overwhelmed. Somewhat it was a relentless accumulation of unnoticed small stresses, in passing moments, that was so drastically affecting the well-being of those individuals who otherwise appeared to “have all of it.” So we began to call it microstress and commenced to take a deep dive into understanding where it comes from, the way it affects us, and what we are able to do about it.

What did you learn while researching?

We were floored by the general impact of microstress. Each individual microstress sounds very manageable – perhaps you sense a misalignment on a project along with your colleagues or you’ve gotten an uncomfortable conversation with a direct report trying to teach him find out how to master something that he’s still fighting, and even getting a vaguely worrying text out of your teen whilst you’re in a gathering at work that later seems to be nothing—but cumulatively they stack up and take an unlimited toll.

Microstress is sneaky – it’s baked into on a regular basis interactions in a way that’s so temporary we barely remember them, however the toll microstress tackle us (and people around us) lingers for hours and even days. We felt that if these high performers were fighting microstress, what hope is there for the remaining of us!

What can a budding entrepreneur learn?

I feel budding entrepreneurs should listen to what the individuals who manage microstress do higher than the remaining of us. We began calling those people the Ten Percenters in our research. But as an entrepreneur, you might be prone to go “all in” on dream. But that could cause you to turn out to be one-dimensional – work (and perhaps family) is the one place you invest your time and energy since you don’t allow yourself time for anything.

The Ten Percenters were in a position to construct and maintain what we call “multi-dimensional lives”, where other activities and shared interests were a part of their lives. They found time, even in small moments, to construct authentic connections with others. This may be so simple as making some extent of being out in your yard on the weekends so you may have spontaneous conversations with neighbors, but it could even be reaching back right into a passion out of your past and finding recent ways to attach with others to try this.

One well-regarded neurosurgeon in our research delighted in joining an off-the-cuff weekend band in his hometown where he was 20 years older than everybody else. Just being around different people for a shared activity you care about can add fresh perspective to your life. That that dimensionality is a key to not letting microstress grind you to a nub.

Was there one interview specifically with the “high achievers” that stood out?

The Ten Percenter stories are those which can be most memorable because they were rare – individuals who were in a position to manage and mitigate the microstress of their lives higher than the remaining of us.

Considered one of our favorites is a high performer named Chris who has clearly excelled in his profession while still making time for a wealthy, multi-dimensional life. He does this, partly, by setting out very clear life goals for himself, which involved setting priorities in a wide range of spheres of life that matter to him and his wife. After which he journals every week to ensure that he’s staying true to those priorities. He holds himself accountable. Considered one of his secrets, he told us, is to work hard at “respectful Nos” so he has time for “spontaneous, enthusiastic Yeses.”

His multi-dimensional life is as necessary to him as any profession goal, but having that, partly, has helped him be so successful professionally, too, because microstress doesn’t grind him down.

How does microstress relate to our work lives? How does it differ from our personal lives?

All of us accept that we now live in a hyperconnected 24-7 world with everyone being a straightforward text, call or video-chat away — in every realm of our lives. We have to be “on call” to people in each our personal and skilled lives across the clock. But what you may fail to acknowledge is how these connections trigger an avalanche of microstress that extends far beyond a lengthy to-do list or full calendar. We will’t simply shake it off at the top of the day. Microstress seeps into our thoughts, saps our energy, and diverts our focus. We simply can’t be our greatest selves at work because we’re at all times responding to microstress, slightly than finding ways to proactively shape the way in which we work.

The microstress that comes from our families or close friends could also be much more draining because there are layers of emotional complications, too. Once we care in regards to the people who find themselves causing us microstress, it makes the impact even greater. And even once they’re people we don’t like, we still have emotional complexity in response.

Rob Cross is a professor at Babson College and cofounder and research director of the Connected Commons, a consortium of over 100 leading organizations accelerating network research and practice. Karen Dillon is a former editor of Harvard Business Review.


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