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  • Tom Birchard

Thankfulness in 2020

The Yerkes-Dodson Law states that there is an optimal level of stress/anxiety to achieve peak performance (Link). In other words too little stress and you likely won’t have the drive or motivation necessary to achieve in whatever activity you’re doing, but too much and there’s a point of diminishing return where that stress and the resulting anxiety actually impairs performance. I’m sure we can all think of examples in our lives on both ends of that spectrum, whether it was a test in school you took for granted and didn’t study for or on the flip side, getting in front of a large room of people for an important presentation where your nerves have you shaking.




I suspect that in 2020 amid a global pandemic, many people are finding themselves closer to the right side of the chart above with increasing levels of stress and anxiety. At the risk of sounding cliché just a couple days after Thanksgiving, I think showing gratitude and thankfulness is an overlooked and often underrated way to reduce stress and get closer to that optimal point on the Yerkes-Dodson curve. For most this isn’t terribly difficult to do on a holiday with “thanks” in the name, but is much more challenging in the midst of chaotic and difficult day-to-day situations. I think re-framing negative statements to look for the positive is an effective way to do this. To be clear, I’m not saying some people don’t have some very legitimate things to be frustrated by these days, but I think if we spent even half the time focusing on those things we can be grateful for instead of the negatives, we’d generally be much happier. Here are just a few examples…


· My job is stressful and there’s too much work to do without enough hours in the day BUT I work with some great people that make the struggle worth it


· I can’t do many things I’d like to such as travel to see friends and family or go out to eat due to COVID-19 BUT there’s never been a better time to focus on building healthy habits and with the technology we have available, we’re very fortunate this happened now vs. 20 years ago


· I don’t agree with everything going on politically or in society at large BUT most of it doesn’t really affect me on a day-to-day basis and despite the imperfections, I’m lucky to have been born in this beautiful country


What are some areas in your life that you often get frustrated but could reframe in a way to express gratitude? Stay safe and healthy and happy belated Thanksgiving!


Recommendations from last two weeks:


· BookFactfulness: Ten Reasons We're Wrong About the World - and Why Things Are Better Than You Think – by Hans Rosling – So I read this book a couple years ago but writing this blog post caused me to reflect on it. As humans we are susceptible to some biases and misconceptions that cause us to view the glass as “half-empty” and this book does an excellent job of explaining those while de-bunking some often misunderstood facts about the world


· Interview – Chamath Palihapitiya on The Knowledge Project – Chamath is one of my favorite people to listen to. He’s a very clear thinker and communicator who also appears to maintain some humility despite his massive financial success. This is one of his better interviews that I’ve listened to and he hits on a lot of good topics


· Article– How Apple is Organized for Innovation – by Joel Podolny and Morten Hansen – This article is pretty dense so unless this topic is interesting to you, you might want to take a pass on it. I found it fascinating though, working for a large organization where silos sometimes complicate decisions, it was super interesting to hear how Apple has taken a different path from an organizational structure standpoint. Even more impressive is that they’ve maintained that general direction as the company has grown significantly which would usually force some of the changes that they’ve effectively resisted


· TV Show Episode - My Next Guest Needs No Introduction With David Letterman: Dave Chappelle Episode – This is a series on Netflix and I’ll probably check out some of the other episodes but so far I only watched his interview with Dave Chappelle. Whether you’re familiar with Chappelle or enjoy his comedy or not, these two have great chemistry together and I found the conversation captivating. If you’ve burned through all your Netflix shows and movies and are looking for something entertaining and a bit educational to watch, highly recommend tuning into this episode


· QuoteThere is a wonderful, almost mystical, law of nature that says three of the things we want most—happiness, freedom, and peace of mind—are always attained when we give them to others. by John Wooden




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