How well do you solve problems under stress? We all went through having to prepare for exams sometimes at the last minute. Perhaps you've had to come up with a business proposal on short notice. In general, it is well known that the effects of acute and chronic stress interfere with problem solving requiring flexibility and adaptation. Acute stress can help rote memory, which is probably why so many "crammers" for exams actually did satisfactorily. However, if the task involves more complex problem solving increased stress interferes.
Yet, in the last several years there is new research indicating that self-affirmation can lessen the interfering effects of stress on problem solving. What exactly is an affirmation? According to researchers at Carnegie Mellon University, "self-affirmation is the process of identifying and focusing on your most important values". In my own work, I prefer the definition that an affirmation is a statement that describes your goal in its completed state. For example, if you are trying to lose weight, your self affirmation might be that "I am feeling lean and powerful at my perfect body weight of 170 pounds".
Using self-affirmation can improve your problem solving skills under pressure. The research team at Carnegie-Mellon University found that a brief self affirmation activity helped buffer the negative effects of chronic stress on task performance when stress levels were rated by questionnaire, heart rate, and blood pressure.
But you have to do it right. When working with clients, I start with the following guidelines:
1. Start with the words I am.
2. Use the present tense.
3. State it in the positive. Affirm what you want, not what you don't want.
4. Keep it brief.
5. Make it specific.
6. Include an action word ending with -ing.
7. Include at least one dynamic emotion or feeling word.
8. Make affirmations for yourself, not others.
Then it is important to create the affirmation for yourself using the following guidelines:
1. Visualize what you would like to create. See things just as you would like them to be.
2. Hear the sounds you would hear if you already had achieved your vision.
3. Feel the feeling you want to feel when you created what you want.
4. Describe what you are experiencing in a brief statement, including what you are feeling. Start the sentence with the words "I am so happy and grateful that I now... Make sure it is stated in the present.
5. Edit it as needed.
Self affirmations work best for you when you combine the above guidelines with visualizations of how things will be when your goal is achieved, whether it is a personal or business goal.
When you are under high stress, you will initiate better problem solving by taking a little time to create and/or reflect on a self affirmative statement that is important to you. For example, if faced with a business deadline and you are inclined to feel high levels of stress, create a self affirmation such as "I am happy that I am working well at creating cohesion among my team to complete our sales project".
This strategy is reasonably easy and you can use it before you enter a high pressure situation or start a self improvement project. Give it a try. If you start to do it regularly, you will be surprised at your successes.