Travis Bradberry: How do Successful People Stay Calm?

Dr_Travis_Bradberry_HeadShotThe ability to manage your emotions and remain calm under pressure has a direct link to your performance. TalentSmart has conducted research with more than a million people, and we’ve found that 90% of top performers are skilled at managing their emotions in times of stress in order to remain calm and in control.

If you follow our newsletter, you’ve read some startling research summaries that explore the havoc stress can wreak on one’s physical and mental health (such as the Yale study, which found that prolonged stress causes degeneration in the area of the brain responsible for self-control). The tricky thing about stress (and the anxiety that comes with it) is that it’s an absolutely necessary emotion. Our brains are wired such that it’s difficult to take action until we feel at least some level of this emotional state. In fact, performance peaks under the heightened activation that comes with moderate levels of stress. As long as the stress isn’t prolonged, it’s harmless.

Travis Bradberry Stress Chart

Research from the University of California, Berkeley, reveals an upside to experiencing moderate levels of stress. But it also reinforces how important it is to keep stress under control. The study, led by post-doctoral fellow Elizabeth Kirby, found that the onset of stress entices the brain into growing new cells responsible for improved memory. However, this effect is only seen when stress is intermittent. As soon as the stress continues beyond a few moments into a prolonged state, it suppresses the brain’s ability to develop new cells.

“I think intermittent stressful events are probably what keeps the brain more alert, and you perform better when you are alert,” Kirby says. For animals, intermittent stress is the bulk of what they experience, in the form of physical threats in their immediate environment. Long ago, this was also the case for humans. As the human brain evolved and increased in complexity, we’ve developed the ability to worry and perseverate on events, which creates frequent experiences of prolonged stress.

Besides increasing your risk of heart disease, depression, and obesity, stress decreases your cognitive performance. Fortunately, though, unless a lion is chasing you, the bulk of your stress is subjective and under your control. Top performers have well-honed coping strategies that they employ under stressful circumstances. This lowers their stress levels regardless of what’s happening in their environment, ensuring that the stress they experience is intermittent and not prolonged.

While I’ve run across numerous effective strategies that successful people employ when faced with stress, what follows are ten of the best. Some of these strategies may seem obvious, but the real challenge lies in recognizing when you need to use them and having the wherewithal to actually do so in spite of your stress.

They Appreciate What They Have

Taking time to contemplate what you’re grateful for isn’t merely the “right” thing to do. It also improves your mood, because it reduces the stress hormone cortisol by 23%. Research conducted at the University of California, Davis found that people who worked daily to cultivate an attitude of gratitude experienced improved mood, energy, and physical well-being. It’s likely that lower levels of cortisol played a major role in this.

They Avoid Asking “What If?”

“What if?” statements throw fuel on the fire of stress and worry. Things can go in a million different directions, and the more time you spend worrying about the possibilities, the less time you’ll spend focusing on taking action that will calm you down and keep your stress under control. Calm people know that asking “what if? will only take them to a place they don’t want—or need—to go.

They Stay Positive

Positive thoughts help make stress intermittent by focusing your brain’s attention onto something that is completely stress-free. You have to give your wandering brain a little help by consciously selecting something positive to think about. Any positive thought will do to refocus your attention. When things are going well, and your mood is good, this is relatively easy. When things are going poorly, and your mind is flooded with negative thoughts, this can be a challenge. In these moments, think about your day and identify one positive thing that happened, no matter how small. If you can’t think of something from the current day, reflect on the previous day or even the previous week. Or perhaps you’re looking forward to an exciting event that you can focus your attention on. The point here is that you must have something positive that you’re ready to shift your attention to when your thoughts turn negative.

They Disconnect

Given the importance of keeping stress intermittent, it’s easy to see how taking regular time off the grid can help keep your stress under control. When you make yourself available to your work 24/7, you expose yourself to a constant barrage of stressors. Forcing yourself offline and even—gulp!—turning off your phone gives your body a break from a constant source of stress. Studies have shown that something as simple as an email break can lower stress levels.

Technology enables constant communication and the expectation that you should be available 24/7. It is extremely difficult to enjoy a stress-free moment outside of work when an email that will change your train of thought and get you thinking (read: stressing) about work can drop onto your phone at any moment. If detaching yourself from work-related communication on weekday evenings is too big a challenge, then how about the weekend? Choose blocks of time where you cut the cord and go offline. You’ll be amazed at how refreshing these breaks are and how they reduce stress by putting a mental recharge into your weekly schedule. If you’re worried about the negative repercussions of taking this step, first try doing it at times when you’re unlikely to be contacted—maybe Sunday morning. As you grow more comfortable with it, and as your coworkers begin to accept the time you spend offline, gradually expand the amount of time you spend away from technology.

They Limit Their Caffeine Intake

Drinking caffeine triggers the release of adrenaline. Adrenaline is the source of the “fight-or-flight” response, a survival mechanism that forces you to stand up and fight or run for the hills when faced with a threat. The fight-or-flight mechanism sidesteps rational thinking in favor of a faster response. This is great when a bear is chasing you, but not so great when you’re responding to a curt email. When caffeine puts your brain and body into this hyperaroused state of stress, your emotions overrun your behavior. The stress that caffeine creates is far from intermittent, as its long half-life ensures that it takes its sweet time working its way out of your body.

They Sleep

I’ve beaten this one to death over the years and can’t say enough about the importance of sleep to increasing your emotional intelligence and managing your stress levels. When you sleep, your brain literally recharges, shuffling through the day’s memories and storing or discarding them (which causes dreams), so that you wake up alert and clear-headed. Your self-control, attention, and memory are all reduced when you don’t get enough—or the right kind—of sleep. Sleep deprivation raises stress hormone levels on its own, even without a stressor present. Stressful projects often make you feel as if you have no time to sleep, but taking the time to get a decent night’s sleep is often the one thing keeping you from getting things under control.

They Squash Negative Self-Talk

A big step in managing stress involves stopping negative self-talk in its tracks. The more you ruminate on negative thoughts, the more power you give them. Most of our negative thoughts are just that—thoughts, not facts. When you find yourself believing the negative and pessimistic things, your inner voice says, “It’s time to stop and write them down.” Literally stop what you’re doing and write down what you’re thinking. Once you’ve taken a moment to slow down the negative momentum of your thoughts, you will be more rational and clear-headed in evaluating their veracity.

You can bet that your statements aren’t true any time you use words like “never,” “worst,” “ever,” etc. If your statements still look like facts once they’re on paper, take them to a friend or colleague you trust and see if he or she agrees with you. Then the truth will surely come out. When it feels like something always or never happens, this is just your brain’s natural threat tendency inflating the perceived frequency or severity of an event. Identifying and labeling your thoughts as thoughts by separating them from the facts will help you escape the cycle of negativity and move toward a positive new outlook.

They Reframe Their Perspective

Stress and worry are fueled by our own skewed perception of events. It’s easy to think that unrealistic deadlines, unforgiving bosses, and out-of-control traffic are the reasons we’re so stressed all the time. You can’t control your circumstances, but you can control how you respond to them. So before you spend too much time dwelling on something, take a minute to put the situation in perspective. If you aren’t sure when you need to do this, try looking for clues that your anxiety may not be proportional to the stressor. If you’re thinking in broad, sweeping statements such as “Everything is going wrong” or “Nothing will work out,” then you need to reframe the situation. A great way to correct this unproductive thought pattern is to list the specific things that actually are going wrong or not working out. Most likely you will come up with just some things—not everything—and the scope of these stressors will look much more limited than it initially appeared.

They Breathe

The easiest way to make stress intermittent lies in something that you have to do everyday anyway: breathing. The practice of being in the moment with your breathing will begin to train your brain to focus solely on the task at hand and get the stress monkey off your back. When you’re feeling stressed, take a couple of minutes to focus on your breathing. Close the door, put away all other distractions, and just sit in a chair and breathe. The goal is to spend the entire time focused only on your breathing, which will prevent your mind from wandering. Think about how it feels to breathe in and out. This sounds simple, but it’s hard to do for more than a minute or two. It’s all right if you get sidetracked by another thought; this is sure to happen at the beginning, and you just need to bring your focus back to your breathing. If staying focused on your breathing proves to be a real struggle, try counting each breath in and out until you get to 20, and then start again from 1. Don’t worry if you lose count; you can always just start over.

This task may seem too easy or even a little silly, but you’ll be surprised by how calm you feel afterward and how much easier it is to let go of distracting thoughts that otherwise seem to have lodged permanently inside your brain.

They Use Their Support System

It’s tempting, yet entirely ineffective, to attempt tackling everything by yourself. To be calm and productive, you need to recognize your weaknesses and ask for help when you need it. This means tapping into your support system when a situation is challenging enough for you to feel overwhelmed. Everyone has someone at work and/or outside work who is on their team, rooting for them, and ready to help them get the best from a difficult situation. Identify these individuals in your life and make an effort to seek their insight and assistance when you need it. Something as simple as talking about your worries will provide an outlet for your anxiety and stress and supply you with a new perspective on the situation. Most of the time, other people can see a solution that you can’t because they are not as emotionally invested in the situation. Asking for help will mitigate your stress and strengthen your relationships with those you rely upon.

Source: How Successful People Stay Calm

6486483About Dr. Travis Bradberry – Author and Speaker on Emotional Intelligence and Organizational Psychology:

Dr. Travis Bradberry is the award-winning author of the #1 best selling book, Emotional Intelligence 2.0, and the cofounder of TalentSmart, a consultancy that serves more than 75% of Fortune 500 companies and is the world’s leading provider of emotional intelligence tests and training.

His bestselling books have been translated into 25 languages and are available in more than 150 countries. Dr. Bradberry has written for, or been covered by, Newsweek, BusinessWeek, Fortune, Forbes, Fast Company, Inc., USA Today, The Wall Street Journal, The Washington Post, and The Harvard Business Review. Dr. Bradberry’s latest book is Leadership 2.0.

The One Word I’d Like To Tell My Younger Self

Maddy Dychtwald Influence Photo (2)How many of you remember seeing the movie “The Graduate” starring Dustin Hoffman? It not only made him a huge star, playing Benjamin Braddock, a recent college graduate who wasn’t sure what to do with his future, but it introduced a few memorable lines, including: “One word: plastics. The future is in plastics.”

Those might have been wise words back in the day, but not so much anymore. If I were to provide my younger self with the secret to a successful future, it would be “Longevity. Be prepared to live a long life.” And one of the best strategies to living a long life successfully can be summed up in one word: “compounding.” In order to live a long life, it’s going to take money. A lot of money. The secret weapon to getting there is to take advantage of compounding.

Think about it. We’re the first humans who will live to 80, 90, and even 100. If we knew this in advance, we’d quickly realize that this requires some long-term planning. We’ll need to figure out how to maintain our health and vitality, how to reinvent ourselves at work and at play, how to get back up when we get knocked down and, and how to pay for all this and more.

Money isn’t everything, but it can oil the wheel so we have more opportunities and choices in how we live our long life. And so, here’s what I would say to my 30-year-old self.

Start early. In order to leverage the power of compounding, start saving as early as you can, at least 10% of your income.

Make it automatic. If you don’t have to think about it, you barely notice the money is gone.

Save, Save, Save. No matter what.

I’d also advise my 30-year-old self to take extremely good care of my body. And, at the end of the day, it’s not the size of your house, your car or your title, it’s the people you love and who love you back that matters most. And so that would be a lesson for me: Keep your principles high, keep your heart in the right place, focus on the things that really matter, and take advantage of compounding to invest in your future self.

Source: Wall Street Journal

About Maddy Dychtwald – Demographics, Gender and Marketing Speaker:

Maddy_Dychtwald_Influence_3D_coverAuthor, speaker and Age Wave co-founder, Maddy Dychtwald is a leading expert on the changing demographic trends – both generation and gender-related – shaping the marketplace, the workplace and our lives. Maddy has spent more than 25 years investigating and forecasting lifestyle and market trends of older adults and the 79 million baby boomers. Building on this knowledge, she has recently emerged as a renowned authority on the rising economic influence of women and their impact on industries, ranging from financial services and healthcare to consumer marketing.

A high impact speaker, she has addressed more than 300,000 business and social service leaders worldwide for organizations such as Blue Cross of California, Chevron, Direct Marketing Association, Fidelity Investments, Lincoln Financial, LPL Financial, Global Women Leadership Network, Mastercard, National Association of Educators, Network of Executive Women and the World Future Society. Maddy has been regularly featured in prominent media worldwide, including: Bloomberg Businessweek, Forbes, Newsweek, TIME, U.S. News & World Report, Fox Business News, CNBC and NPR. She is also a popular contributor to The Huffington Post and

For more information on Maddy Dychtwald, please visit: The Sweeney Agency

4 Ways Every Salesperson Can Innovate to Win More Business

ryan-estis-photo-3The best salespeople are also marketers, constantly connecting, learning and sharing.

If you’re in sales , you might read that and pause. You don’t influence your company website, write white papers or contribute to the company Twitter feed. You deliver the sales plan. So why do people like me keep talking about trends in social selling and building connections and credibility online? A few reasons:

1. I hate making cold calls.
2. I hate trade show booth duty.
But more than anything…
3. I hate losing.

I spend time inside a lot of sales organizations and one question I like to ask is:

Is sales harder or easier than it was 5 years ago? 10 years ago?

It’s a loaded question. The answer is that it depends. It depends almost entirely on you.

Your customers are overwhelmed. They’re checking email 30 times an hour and looking at their smart phones 150 times a day. In a recent focus group with CIOs (often the most sold-to people in an organization), we found that the average CIO gets more than 250 emails per day. Barriers to customer attention have never been more severe. The last thing anyone has time for is another cold sales pitch.

Recognizing this shift, top producers are always looking for opportunities to innovate in an effort to break through and make a meaningful connection. You don’t need permission to be innovative, think differently and experiment. You just need to take some shots.

I’ve been there.

Ten years ago, I worked for an ad agency. We were heavy proponents of trade show marketing (I’m always reluctant to call that sales). No one ever questioned our investment in trade shows, largely because that’s the way we had conducted business for years. It amounted to some exposure, face time with clients and a steak dinner for a few executives. As a salesperson, I wanted my time to count on the bottom line.

I remember one moment at a big industry trade show. I found myself sitting in our booth handing out swag (nail clippers with our logo, to be precise). From where I sat, I could make eye contact with three competitors, who were sitting in their own booths with their own tables of swag. I was done. I knew I had to find a better way to do my job in spite of the established precedent around trade show booth duty.

I never advocated for abandoning trade shows. I just wanted to find a way to get a lot more out of our investment and my time. It was time to experiment.
The first step was offering to conduct conference breakout sessions. I got off the trade show floor and in front of potential customers. That provided me with undivided attention for one hour on a topic that immediately helped qualify everyone in the room. Subsequently, those sessions served to immediately elevate engagement back on the trade show floor and separate me from my competition.

Developing the content and getting approved to speak was heavy lifting at first. Over time, it made selling a whole lot easier. That is the whole idea.
While I’m a huge proponent of social selling and content marketing, I’m not challenging every sales pro to speak, start a blog, or even become a LinkedIn power user. Here’s what I am challenging you to consider: Think about whether or not your own strategy is evolving as fast as your customers are changing.

What is still working really well? What isn’t? How can you stop spending your time on low-yield activities and start surfacing more qualified opportunities?

Here’s my formula: Spend 90% of your time doing what you’ve always been doing if you’re crushing plan — but also spend 10% of your time experimenting and testing. Too many salespeople get stuck using the same traditional tactics that aren’t going to deliver big results. The market share will increasingly move toward the producers who are willing to test, measure, iterate and evolve.

Here are 4 Ways Every Salesperson Can Be An Innovator:

Audit everything. The best salespeople audit everything. After every call, meeting, conversation and decision, they reverse-engineer what happened to understand what worked and what didn’t. Ask yourself critical questions about how your own performance can improve — whether you win or lose the sale.

Look at what your most successful peers are doing. If you’re stuck for inspiration, look around you. What are the most successful salespeople at your company doing differently? What about the best salespeople at competing companies? I’m willing to bet they’re not making cold calls. Take notes and emulate that winning behavior. Or, build on what’s working to make it even better.

Study. We’re working in an exciting time. You have endless amounts of information available to you — about your industry, about your role in sales, and about your customers and competitors. Start reading and researching. Follow the best blogs. Keep an eye on competitors’ social sites. Pay attention to Twitter chats and LinkedIn group conversations. Soak up all of the knowledge that’s floating, for free, right in front of you.

Test and measure. Try new things. Reach out to prospects in new ways. Brainstorm new groups of customers you’re not targeting today. If you’ve never tried building a relationship with a customer by sharing an interesting article about their business, start. What do you have to lose? Everyone can spare 10% of their time to experiment and innovate.

Is sales harder or easier than it was 5 years ago? 10 years ago?

The answer depends almost entirely on you.


About Ryan Estis – Speaks on Business Performance, Leadership and Sales:

leading-breakthrough-sales-performance-6-quick-tips-for-every-sales-leader-1-638Ryan Estis has dedicated his career to helping both companies and individual contributors leverage change as a catalyst to achieve breakthrough performance. Using his two decades of hands on business experience the former McCann World Group Advertising Chief Strategy Officer is widely regarded as a leading expert on Culture, Leadership, Sales Effectiveness and the Future of Work.

Recently recognized as one of the best keynote speakers seen or heard by Meetings & Conventions Magazine, Ryan serves as a faculty member for the Institute of Management Studies, is a Sr. Associate with Employer Brand International, an advisory member on the SmartBrief Workforce Council and is a certified Human Capital Strategist. His work has been featured in Electronic Recruiting Exchange, Workforce Management Magazine, HR Professional Magazine, HR Times, SHRM, Business News Network, Crain’s Business, Staffing Management Magazine, and the books Your Employer Brand and Employer of Choice.

As the Chief Experience Officer in his training and development organization, Ryan Estis & Associates, Ryan delivers over 70 live events annually helping prepare participants to thrive in the ultra competitive, hyper connected business environment we now know as the new normal. Ryan brings a relevant, high-energy message to the platform helping the world’s best brands unleash human potential including Mayo Clinic, Motorola, Mastercard, AT&T, The National Basketball Association, Liberty Mutual Insurance, Prudential and Adobe.

For more information on Ryan Estis, please visit The Sweeney Agency.