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Flowing Through Stress

This is an excerpt from In Pursuit of Excellence-5th Edition by Terry Orlick.

Something is stressful only if you view it as stressful, accept it as stressful, and experience it as stressful. Otherwise, it is just something that happens during your day, week, or life. You can choose to feel stressed about it or choose to not feel stressed about it. Choosing to not feel stressed about things that previously resulted in you feeling stressed is within your potential control. You are not required to feel stressed before going into major events, competitions, tests, games, or performances. The best way to avoid feeling stressed in situations that previously resulted in you feeling stressed is to remind yourself that you are not required to be stressed in this situation. Remind yourself to keep things in perspective and then focus on following a positive preperformance focus plan that keeps you focused on you and what you are capable of doing in this context or performance. Focus on slow, relaxed breathing and remind yourself to relax as you breathe out in the lead-up time to your performance, test, game, or competition. Slow, relaxed breathing is always a good thing to focus on to relax or turn down the intensity in potentially stressful circumstances or contexts.


Changing channels is another effective way to reduce stress or regain control quickly on-site in performance contexts or other potentially stressful situations. Think of it as changing channels on your TV. If you are on a mental channel you don’t like or don’t want to be on at this time, a channel that is not helping you, simply press your thumb hard against your first or second finger and change channels mentally. As you press your thumb hard against your finger, think to yourself change channels, change channels from stressed to relaxed, from negative to positive, from distracted to fully connected. By choosing to make positive shifts in your focus, you can enhance your positive perspective; make your focus stronger, better, more consistent, or more complete; eliminate doubts or fears; and relax your breathing. All of this can help you channel your positive energy and fully connected focus into the step-by-step process of executing your performance to the best of your ability.


Another effective refocusing strategy I have used with high-performance athletes and other high-level performers is called flowing stream. If you are feeling stressed or distracted before a performance or while you are performing, you simply imagine yourself flowing like a little mountain stream. If you watch water flowing down a mountain stream, you will see that it always finds a path even when there are obstacles like rocks, stones, branches, or tree trunks along the way. The water doesn’t get stressed out or stop flowing; it just finds its own path and keeps on flowing to its desired destination. Sometimes it is helpful to remind yourself to flow through challenges, obstacles, or uncertainty in your day or life like a flowing stream.


I have devoted much of my life to creating simple, positive, effective focusing and refocusing strategies to help children, youth, athletes, students, performers, and everyday people reduce stress, enhance relaxation, achieve their goals, and live their lives more fully and joyfully. If you are interested in learning additional simple, effective focusing, refocusing, and relaxation strategies, see chapter 10, "Focusing Activities," and chapter 11, "Relaxation and Joyful Living," in my book Positive Living Skills: Joy and Focus for Everyone (Orlick, 2011).


Your first line of stress prevention, stress reduction, and positive focus control lies in focusing on the good things in your life and accepting that your value as a human being remains intact regardless of whether you meet your performance expectations or the expectations of others. You can reduce unnecessary stress in your life by setting realistic performance goals, focusing fully on executing your task, and knowing in your heart and soul that you remain a good and valued person regardless of your performance outcome in any context on any given day. Choose to enter potentially stress-provoking situations with a positive and fully connected focus, and you will greatly enhance your chances of performing well. You may feel your heart thumping or a rush of adrenaline flowing through your body because you are excited and you need a certain level of positive intensity to perform your best in this situation. That’s usually a good thing because your body and mind are telling you that you are ready to rise to this challenge.


In some contexts, you may feel more of an adrenaline rush than you would like. If this happens, take a little time-out to breathe in and out slowly and remind yourself to relax every time you breathe out. If you are feeling negative or stressed, ask yourself, Why am I feeling negative? Why am I feeling stressed out? What am I thinking or saying to myself about this situation that is making me feel negative or stressed? Do I have to feel this way? No, you definitely do not have to feel this way! Do I have to think this way? No, you don’t have to think that way! Do I have to get stressed out over this? No, you don’t! Is worrying or being stressed going to help me in this situation? No, it isn’t going to help you! Is it really worth continuing to be stressed or negative about this? Definitely not! If being stressed or negative is not going to help you, then why not change channels or shift your focus to something positive that will free you to take control and focus fully on performing your best? Set a personal goal to stop focusing on the negatives and start focusing on the positives.

  • Focus on why you can achieve your goal.
  • Focus on how you will achieve your goal.
  • Act on your positive intentions every day simply by focusing on what you know works best for you. Continue to look for good reasons to believe in yourself and your capacity to meet or overcome the challenges you are facing, whatever they may be. You are fully capable of focusing through these challenges and growing from them.
  • Remind yourself of your strengths. Write them down!
  • Remind yourself to focus fully on the step, move, stroke, or stride in front of you and nothing else.
  • Remind yourself of the amazing power of your fully connected focus.
  • Remember that you are fully capable of achieving your goals.
  • Remember that you are fully capable of carrying a positive and fully connected focus for the duration of your performance.
  • Choose to think and act in positive ways that will free you to focus fully on executing your mission or performance - nothing more, nothing less.


Deciding to be positive and fully focused before you enter your performance context will help you make the positive changes you are seeking. Think about how you would prefer to respond to various situations in your performance arena and other arenas of your life. See yourself responding effectively to situations that may have distracted or upset you unnecessarily in the past. Imagine yourself in future performance situations - thinking, focusing, believing, and acting in more positive and fully connected ways. Focus on bringing this more positive vision of yourself to life in your real-world performance contexts.


Often a simple shift in focus from negative to positive or from disconnected to fully connected leads to a major change in the way you view a situation, your performance, and yourself. As soon as you start to believe that you really do have the potential to do what you really want to do in this performance context, everything changes: Hey, I’m ready to do this; I can do this; I want to do this; I own my best focus; I control my actions and reactions; just focus, focus, focus, and execute my game plan.


Continue to act on drawing out the focusing lessons from your best performances and the less than best parts of your performances. Whenever you are able to make a positive change in your focus, perspective, or performance, think about what you did, focused on, or said to yourself to make this happen. Embrace those positive lessons and act on them in your future performances. Try to become aware of self-imposed obstacles to positive change, such as focusing on the negatives, dwelling on distractions, or saying things to yourself that block your own progress, for example, things like I don’t feel ready; this will never work; I can’t do this; I’m not good enough to do this; I’ll probably mess it up.


What are you saying to yourself right now about your capacity to improve your focus and make the positive changes you need to make to consistently perform to your capacity? This is a good place to start establishing and nurturing a powerful, positive, fully connected focus. Docide right now to move forward each day with a powerful, positive, and fully connected focus.

Learn more about In Pursuit of Excellence, Fifth Edition.