Cold, Dark Nights
What did you expect?
In one of our companies, some employees often have to move a large amount of luggage onto a boat. Clearly, this task is easier with more people as many hands make light work. Recently, however, we were a bit short-staffed and one employee ended up moving a lot of luggage himself. A teammate highlighted how great of an attitude her colleague had despite the situation. He kept exclaiming things like “I guess I don’t have to go to the gym today!” or ‘’I’m going to be so jacked at the end of this shift!” while hoisting bag after bag up and down the ramp.
The employee could have decided to have a bad attitude, but probably recognized that either way, those bags were going on the boat. The work was going to get done by somebody. The employee did an outstanding job by recognizing this and deciding to have a good attitude about it. Unsurprisingly, the positive mindset was infectious.
The incident reminded us of a recent Hidden Brain podcast with psychologist Alia Crum, principal investigator of the Stanford Mind and Body Lab. Crum discussed an experience she had while writing her dissertation:
“A few years back, while crunching stats for my dissertation, I spent many nights in the student computer lab in the basement of the psychology department at Yale. On one particularly ‘dark’ night, Bret Logan, head of IT in the psychology department who had come in late to code, saw the light in the student computer lab and popped his head in the door. With analyses to run and an early-morning meeting with my adviser, I was not in the mood for conversation. I shot him a look, whined about my busy schedule, and tried to get back to work. ‘Ah,’ he said, sensing my stress, ‘Just a cold, dark, night on the side of Everest.’”
At first glance, that’s a pretty odd thing to say. Crum goes on to explain:
“Admittedly, with my mind focused on the immediate task at hand, it took me a few days to reflect on the significance of what he said. What Bret was telling me, in his characteristically unique and insightful way, was that those stressful nights were part of what I had signed up for. When mountaineers commit to taking on Mount Everest, they’d be naïve to expect a smooth journey. The same, of course, is true of a dissertation. Did I really expect getting my PhD to be a walk in the park?”
Stress is an inevitability for everybody. What’s interesting — and what Crum’s research actually focuses on — is the “stress mindset“, which measures whether an individual sees stress as positive (i.e., enhancing) or negative (i.e., debilitating). She has shown that there are strong correlations between a stress-as-enhancing mindset and better health, performance, and well-being.
This means that when you see a large amount of work to be done — moving luggage or otherwise — you can view your inevitable stress response as a challenge that will make you better, or as a disaster that you have to suffer through. This doesn’t mean things don’t suck. It just means that if you are doing something worthwhile, you’re going to have some cold, dark nights on the side of Everest. So you might as well suck it up, buttercup.
Weekly Thoughts will return Sept 9. Have a great Labor Day,
Have a great week,
Your Chenmark Team