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Can You Be Too Driven?

From A Couple’s Book Club!'

I know you have lots to do. You are a busy person who needs to juggle competing priorities. In fact, you may think you’re wasting time even reading this article.

Our adrenalin-based culture encourages you to keep moving and to move fast. Almost like it’s a badge of honor, a sign of importance and worth.

However, in your driven pace, you may be hitting diminishing returns. In my experience of coaching executives, the more driven you get, the worse your results.

How do I know? Well, it happened to me when training for the Olympics. I was the queen of being driven.

Olympic Driver

It was March 1988, and we’d come off a winter of heavy weight lifting and long races. We were tapering off just before the start of the rowing racing season.

The previous summer I’d won the silver medal at the World Championships in the women’s eight. I was performing at my best, and it looked like I was a shoe-in for the stroke seat, the leader and rhythm setter for the Olympic eight team.

Life was good.

Then…something in my brain said, “You want to make sure you get that seat. You better start power lifting. You can never be too strong.” Never mind I was the only woman who had ever bench pressed over 200 pounds, 215 to be exact.

But, wanting to make certain I’d secure that stroke seat, I listened to that voice. I began power lifting again and promptly hurt my back.

I was off the water for three months and got a pity invite to the training camp in June. Then I had to work my way up from the bottom of the pack to get the last seat in the Olympic eight. Yes, I did it, but, boy, did I create so much more work for myself!

Executive Stress

I see this in the executives I coach. They’re focusing so hard on being successful, that they try too hard. Maybe they don’t hurt themselves like I did, but maybe they do.

Many executives are dealing with: digestive problems, migraines, chronic back problems, allergies, heart palpitations, fatigue, or getting sick often.

What they may not realize is that these are stress related health issues.

While others are so focused on their goals, these executives can bark, criticize, and badger people to have them work better, faster, and more like themselves. So, they wind up alienating people around them and get negative performance reviews.

The cost to being too driven? There’s a:

  • body tax

  • a relationship tax

  • a results tax

It doesn’t have to stay this way.

Your Stress-Maker

People think stress is outside of us. While there are lots of triggers in our environment, we manufacture stress in how we deal with those triggers.

There’s a voice in us, I like to call it my Driver. Tim Gallwey, author of The Inner Game of Tennis and The Inner Game of Stress, calls it your “Stress-Maker.”

This Driver or Stress-Maker thinks your success is a life or death proposition. When you listen to it, your sympathetic nervous system is activated. You go into fight, flight, or freeze.

  • Your heart rate increases.

  • Your eyesight focus narrows.

  • Your breathing gets shallow and faster.

  • Blood is shunted away from your digestion and healing tasks, and sent to your limbs.

This sympathetic nervous system is what helped our ancestors survive when a saber-toothed tiger jumped out. The people who didn’t react quickly, well, they were dinner. So, we’ve inherited this highly tuned system.

The system was designed to turn on immediately for the incident, and then settle back down pretty quickly after, turning back on our parasympathetic nervous system, also called our rest and digest system.

These days, we’re no longer fending off saber-toothed tigers, but a project deadline, a tough conversation, and upset co-worker can feel just the same. Our brains don’t distinguish the difference. It’s all red-alert.

As a result, we can get stuck in fight, flight, or freeze mode, creating chronic stress. This does lead to many physical ailments. Our stress hormone, cortisol, goes up, and our bodies don’t repair the way they’re designed to multiple times a day.

When I was in my twenties, my system was so vigorous, I probably didn’t notice the impact.

Discharge Your Stress-Maker

There’s something you can do to stop this vicious cycle.

Step One: Notice the Voice

Begin listening for your Driver or Stress-Maker’s constant rant. You’ll recognize it because this voice thinks in terms of black or white and sounds very convincing. It usually sounds like:

  • You have to…

  • If you don’t do (blank), bad things will happen…

  • You don’t have time…

  • You’d better…

Step Two: It’s Not You

It’s easy to think the voice is you, but it’s not. It’s a part of you, not all of you. There’s a bigger part of you that is more grounded and settled and can see the big picture. You may just not be connecting to that larger part because the Stress-Maker is so persistent.

It’s like an eclipse, when the shadow of the earth blocks all the light of the sun. You can connect back to the light of your sun, though.


Step Three: Interrupt It

It’s so seductive to keep listening to the Stress-Maker and believing it. You need to break the hold it has on you, because when you do, you’ll see things differently, or at least see some other options.

Do something, anything, to interrupt its grip on you:

  • Switch what you’re focused on to anything else, like call a friend to say hello.

  • Get physical. Take a 5 to 10 minute walk around the building, or better yet, outside.

  • Stop and take a sip of water, not a gulp a sip — this activates your parasympathetic system.

  • Get your phone and ear buds and put on a song you like.

  • Take 10 deep belly breaths.

Be the CEO of You

You are the CEO of you, not the driver of Stress-Maker.

The Stress-Maker wants you to believe that it’s the boss and knows best. When in fact, it’s just a worried manager who won’t shut up. The Stress-Maker makes a lousy CEO.

Make sure you’re in the CEO role, setting the strategy and making the decisions. Demote the Stress-Maker to the project manager, which it is good at.

Then watch your health improve, your relationships get better, and your results sky-rocket!


P.S. Want support successfully dealing with stress? Contact me for executive coaching

CrisMarie Campbell and Susan Clarke

Coaches, Business Consultants, Speakers and Authors of The Beauty of Conflict

CrisMarie and Susan work leaders and teams, couples in business, and professional women.

They help turnaround dysfunctional teams into high performing, cohesive teams who trust each other, deal with differences directly, and have clarity and alignment on their business strategy so they create great results.

Check out their website: Connect with CrisMarie and Susan on LinkedIn. Watch their TEDx Talk: Conflict – Use It, Don’t Defuse It! Find your copy of The Beauty of Conflict: Harnessing Your Team's Competitive Advantage here.

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