Common knowledge is that stress produces a fight-or-flight response. Many people believe that the fight-or-flight response can induce a will that forces a project to completion, but does it force the project to optimum results? Recent research questions the ability to leverage stress into creative problem solving, a necessity when you want to utilize unique talent to render unique solutions which would place your business at the forefront of creative solutions.
Carnegie-Mellon researcher, David Creswell, asked if self-affirmation can protect against the damaging effects of stress on problem-solving performance. He devised a study which first asked about the chronic stressors in the participants’ lives. After that, the participants had to complete a challenging problem-solving task under time pressure, which require creativity in order to generate correct solutions. His findings were that individuals who had experienced chronic stress in the past month solved 50% fewer tasks set forth in the study.
Under-performance due to stress can be mitigated though, states Creswell. One of the best methods to alleviate poor performance due to stress is brief self-affirmation at the beginning of a task. The self-affirmation can be in an area important to them, not just in an area specific to the task at hand. This affect has also been measured in other studies which have shown that a brief self-affirmation activity at the beginning of a school term can boost academic grade-point averages in underperforming kids at the end of a semester.
So, how can a leader leverage self-affirmation to increase the creative potential of a team? The first step is explaining the steps to constructing useful self-affirmations. First, note the thoughts or behaviors that you want your team to work on. Next, come up with positive, credible, present tense statements that are opposite of the negative thought behavior. For instance, you want to change your teams’ or specific team members’ beliefs that they will not function well with other team members. Spotlight an instance where your target members have worked effectively on teams. For instance, Jack worked well with Laura on a team. You can tell Jack, “Your opinion is respected and valued by your team.” Then have Jack think of specific examples from previous team work which show how his opinion has been valued. In Jack’s case of working on a product design, you can point out that he discovered a piece that hindered easy use of the product, related this to his team, and the final product incorporated the suggestion. To best optimize the affirmation, Jack needs to repeat it several times daily, especially when he is with his team and feels the negative idea towards his contributions interrupting in his successful interaction with the team. Also, you should help Jack realistically visualize the goal that his self-affirmations will help him reach. For instance, Jack should not set himself up to be the principal designer on the team; a more achievable goal is that several of his suggestions will appear in the final product or a white paper analysis that the team will compile at the end of the project. Specificity is important in achieving tangible results from self-affirmation.
Of course, modeling them behavior yourself will help increase your employees use of self-affirmation
tactics. Here are some suggestions of affirmations. Remember to add a specific illustration that shows how you have positively accomplished this behavior in the past.
- My opinion is respected and valued by my team.
- I have plenty of creativity for this project and I need your inspiration.
- I like completing tasks and projects on time.
- My work will be recognized in a positive way by my boss and colleagues.
- I am successful only if I can share it with you.
- I am honest in my life and my work.
Back to Creswell and the concluding remarks of his study. “People under high stress can foster better problem-solving simply by taking a moment beforehand to think about something that is important to them. It is an easy-to-use and portable strategy you can roll out before you enter that high pressure performance situation.”