Stress Level 50

I operate optimally at around stress level 50. New ideas and pursuits will spike it to 60 or 70 until I grind and get it back down to 50. Lack of novelty or challenge will drop it to 30 or 40, then I start coming up with all kinds of new ideas that drive it back up.

I’ve realized one of the biggest challenges in working with other people is when they have a default stress level that diverges widely from my own. Anyone in the 40-60 range is easy to work with. Our rhythms sync pretty easily. Below or above that range gets more challenging.

It doesn’t mean it’s not possible to work with people who have a radically different optimal stress range. Far from it. I’ve had some really productive working relationships with people as low as 20 (lower than that seems reserved for chronic pot heads) and as high as 100 (yes, they really exist, and no, I don’t know if Adderall is involved.)

With people who thrive at lower stress levels, I’ve had to learn to remind myself how much my levels cause discomfort for them and how unsustainable that is. They can handle it for short sprints, but can’t have it as a constant. I’ve learned to shield those people from anything except actionable, clearly laid out goals. I have to refrain from sharing all the half-formed thoughts and ideas and changes in direction that I entertain regularly. They have a hard time with hypotheticals and rapid pivots and contingencies. The plus side is, these people tend to be steady, reliable, and low drama.

Those who thrive at higher stress levels require me to create a buffer between us, or I’ll get sucked into a higher stress zone than I can sustain. Tracking with a 100 elevates my ambient stress to about 80, which, again, is great for sprints. Not every day. I’ve learned to put their ideas into a waiting room for a period before letting them affect my own thought patterns and work habits. This allows me to maintain more control over the rhythms of business and keep a governor on the stress range.

Higher stress people need a lot of latitude to roam, explore, share, and get hyped. But all of these things do not demand action, certainly not right away. I am heavily action biased, which is what makes my stress elevate quickly around those with a higher optimum range. It helps to remind myself how I feel with lower stress range people – I’m always wondering why they turn every idea into some kind of burden and can’t just entertain it and play with it before letting become serious enough to disrupt their day.

My optimal range has changed over the years. Very early in my career, it was a bit lower. Probably 40 or so. As I gained confidence, experience, and a realization of my entrepreneurial bent, it rose quickly to around 60 or even higher. For about half a decade or more, I operated constantly at around 70-80 with frequent sprints of 90-100, which didn’t seem too bad until my body started to fall apart on me and I realized I was overclocking it for too long. I pulled it back down as best I could, and discovered when the dust cleared and the bodily equilibrium (mostly) returned, that my previous optimal of around 60 was now about 10 degrees lower.

I don’t know why it dropped. I’m nearly 40, so maybe it’s an age thing. Or maybe I just used up too much too fast and needed a long recovery period. Interestingly, the drop in my tolerance for above-optimal stress came with a drop in my tolerance for below-optimal stress too. I get restless and bored even easier and quicker.

It definitely put a dent in my pride at first to realize I needed a lower range and didn’t have as much room for deviation or as many sprints in me as I once did. It’s easy to construct belief systems around your optimal stress levels and decide that yours is the best for everyone. This is tempting but dumb.

Best is to figure out your optimal range, be honest about what it is, don’t wish it was otherwise, and learn to work within it. You can be an absolute beast at nearly any range (though I suspect those below 20 are suppressing some potential, and those above 80 are compensating for something and might have to pay the piper later).

I don’t know what all this means, whether there are lessons for anyone else, or any kind of broadly applicable insights or patterns. But using this framework for myself (which I just teased out of my subconscious and put into words this morning) seems pretty darn useful.