I have been asked numerous times over the past few years how I handle stress…I guess people out there recognize that parts of this job just may, in fact, be stressful. It’s a really good question, actually.
The truth is that almost every part of my job is stressful. This doesn’t make my job ‘bad’…it just means that being a pastry chef and a business owner, like many other jobs out there, has good aspects & not-so-great aspects. My facebook page and my blog may focus more on the positive stuff, but don’t be fooled into thinking that this means that life is rainbows & unicorns over here in sugarland. My motto for life has always been ‘onward & upward’, and you can’t have that as your guiding force and be a whiner at the same time. I’ve never been big into complaining and always opt to find something good to share instead of focusing on negative stuff. Nor do I let the negative stuff eat away at me (well, not always). I intentionally try to keep the bad stuff & the stress in a place where I can assess and address it, but not give it too much life so that it has the chance to become consuming.
Last year, I went with my son Sam to a lacrosse event in Maryland and had the fortune of hearing a speech by Greg Dale, a professor of Sports Psychology and Sports Ethics at Duke University. I can’t really say with certainty how much Sam got out of Greg’s speech, but for me, it was transformative. He spoke to a huge group of middle school & high school athletes and shared with them some of the work he does with the athletes at Duke. He talked about what makes some athletes more ‘game ready’ and mentally tougher than others, and what it came down to (in my non-athlete mind) is what I now remember as his three second rule.
(Greg – forgive me if I have completely ruined or changed what you were trying to convey…)
Three seconds. It’s how long Greg Dale suggests each athlete take to be angry/disappointed/frustrated/upset/etc at themselves for not doing something right during sports (or life). Miss a shot on goal? Take three seconds to be angry, but then be ready to move forward. The athletes who are mentally tough are able to limit their negative emotions to three seconds, and then these emotions are put aside so the athlete can return to the sport, 100% ready to focus on whatever confronts them.
I have adopted this rule not only for myself, but as a guiding motto at the bakery. I let stress eat away at me for about three seconds (on a good day) or a little bit longer (on a not so good day) and then, I consciously put it away so that I can move forward and continue to be productive. I force my co-workers to do the same. Mistakes are going to happen. Problems arise almost daily. We can either learn from them or become crippled by them. I refuse to let anyone on my team even consider becoming paralyzed by something that is not that important in the grand scheme of life. Drop a tray of pies? It is ok. Move on. Turn the mixer on high with a bowl filled with cocoa powder??? Not the best idea ever, but fixable. The depositor broke again? The pans aren’t ‘working’? You name it, and I’m pretty sure it’s happened at the bakery. Our big oven was installed improperly and delayed our ability to bake by two weeks. Certainly not how I would have liked the move to go, but dwelling on it would solve nothing. What I care about, and what keeps me motivated & inspired instead of angry, depressed or defeated, is how my team and I handle these obstacles.
Trust me. The stress doesn’t miraculously disappear after three seconds. How nice would that be? However, by consciously deciding to focus my energy on how to overcome the obstacle, I inherently motivate myself out of the stress and into a solution.
I feel very strongly about this rule. My leadership style at work is mostly hands-off, but when it comes to this area, I turn into a bulldozer.
I encourage everyone to give it a shot. I promise you – it will give you a new outlook on your potential.
Gregory A. Dale, Ph.D. is a Professor of Sport Psychology and Sport Ethics at Duke University. He is also the Director of Mental Training and Co-Director of the Leadership Program for Duke Athletics. In addition to his work with Duke athletes and coaches, Greg consults with numerous college and professional athletes and teams as well as corporate groups (http://excellenceinperformance.com). In this clip, he talks to coaches about motivating athletes.