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Mark Law, Lead Tutor

Expert consulting practitioner with extensive experience in the private, public and not-for-profit sectors. Consulting Career Mentor to London Business School MBA students and Alumni.
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“As an experienced ex-McKinsey consultant I was intrigued by the opportunity to explore the consulting profession from a different perspective. The 3 courses really broadened my skillset and showed me how to stretch my capabilities and leverage my experience into sectors and organisations well beyond those traditionally served by the big consultancies. I'd throughly recommend Mark's professional consulting courses to any ex-MBB (McKinsey, BCG or Bain) consultants seeking to challenge their preconceptions of the consulting profession and optimise their offerings in the real world of independent strategy consulting."

Alvaro Triana, Formerly at McKinsey & Company

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Good Stress – How to Surf Stress Like a Champion

Believe it or not, the most effective performance enhancing drug is free, 100% legal and available to everyone. Moreover, with the right choices and a little practice and care, most of us can use it to excel at our chosen activities.

Good stress (‘eustress’ in the literature) clears our minds and focuses us, quickens our reflexes and makes us very, very alert. Good stress places us in the eye of the hurricane, in a quiet place brimming with potential. We’ve all marvelled at musicians, sportsmen and performers of all types as they strut their stuff in the glare of the spotlight. We can potentially do the same.

So what’s their secret? How does the musician, the professional golfer and the athletics champion master the waves of fear that threaten to engulf the rest of us? What is their secret? How can we use good stress to our advantage?

Contrary to logic, these people are no different from the rest of us. They are not somehow magically wired to handle stress in a way that allows their skills to flow flawlessly, fearlessly and rarely have an off moment. Moreover, this magic wiring doesn’t somehow allow them when they do make a mistake to just shrug their shoulders, laugh, learn and get it right next time.

No, they are just the same as the rest of us but they are conditioned differently. They have practiced their sport or craft for thousands of hours and delivered it in a ‘threatening’ environment on hundreds of occasions. They receive expert tuition and coaching. No wonder they are good at what they do and can manage stress to their advantage.

And then, of course, there are the rest of us. We do have real skills and talents, yet we are strangely fearful and lack confidence.

There’s nothing wrong with the quiet life if that’s what you truly want. If so, retire to the country (if you have the cash), get a job (if you don’t) and certainly avoid anything as high profile and potentially dangerous as public speaking or setting up your own business.

However, if you want to get to the top of your professional game, whatever this is, there’s no point in hanging back. Go for it but you really need to put some effort into mastering stress to make the most of it. You’re going to have to become a champion at ‘stress surfing’.

What we can learn from the champions is that:

  1. They practice a great deal (you can apparently become a genius at anything if you have an aptitude for it and are prepared to spend 10,000 hours practicing it!).
  2. They are used to performing in public starting at small events and gradually working up.
  3. They receive expert coaching and mentoring.
  4. They use science and technology to their advantage.
  5. They are prepared to fail, pick themselves up and try again.
  6. They have a ‘Plan B’ i.e. something they can do when they retire or perhaps are injured

Here are some tips for how to surf stress:

  • Develop a vision for where you would like to be, for example a world-class public speaker in your field.
  • Be bold – throw yourself into it but start small, e.g. at a regional event organised by your professional association. The worst thing you can do to yourself and your confidence is to overstretch yourself and crash at a major public event.
  • Find someone you trust to coach and advise you.
  • Do some media training if you intend to appear in the mass media.
  • Be enthusiastic and prepared to take small risks – you will be amazed by what emerges when they pay off.
  • Practice, practice, practice. Polished performers have done hundreds of gigs before you see them.
  • When you are about to perform, acknowledge and ‘welcome’ the feeling of fear – just this process alone normally melts it and allows you get on with the task.
  • Imagine you are in a place where you have made a success of it before and recapture that feeling.
  • If it goes wrong, laugh! This may not be easy but I have some great war stories where things went wrong . They get a laugh and seem to get people more on your side.
  • Develop a ‘Plan B’ – something you can do if your primary plan does not work out for some reason.
  • Above all else, really go for it – you only live once!

If you really can’t find a way through the fear barrier get professional help. Visit your GP, explain your problem and they will point you in the right direction. They may even be able to prescribe legal medication for your chosen activity.

Mastering fear is a terrific achievement. It allows you to achieve goals you would never have dreamed possible. It also significantly reduces stress and gives you more options allowing you to further future-proof your career. It may sound corny but the biggest fear is fear itself. Time to roll up your sleeves and tackle it head on!

Good Stress

Click this link to access our growing collection of articles on how to manage stress.

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