Our natural inclination is to avoid stress. Stress, after all, usually feels uncomfortable, sometimes even painful.
But to take big steps forward in learning almost always requires a certain amount of stress. The ideal is to push ourselves – to seek stress – in situations where we are motivated to learn, where we actually enjoy being pushed, even if there is discomfort and pain involved.
Stress in this sense is eustress, rather than distress.
That said, even distress can be beneficial if we are psychologically prepared to deal with it. While we should not – and typically would not – seek out distress, we should also not be overly focused on avoiding it. We have to be prepared to take risks that can result in distress.
I’ve come to value an adaptation of botanist Michael Pollan’s perspective on food as a way to think about stress. About food, Pollan says “Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants.” (Discussed in more detail here.) About stress, as it relates to learning, I say:
Seek stress. Not too much. Mostly good.
So, take a little time to reflect on how you are seeking stress in your life. Are you taking risks? Pushing yourself in practice? Consider what you might do in the coming days and weeks to add some positive stress to your pursuit of lifelong learning.
And, of course, I encourage you to report back in the comments.
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I am an avid lifelong learner who writes and speaks frequently on the critical role of learning in our fast-changing world.