Future of Work

Why stress can be your friend

A man poses for photos as solar halo is seen in the sky of Brasilia September 30, 2011.  This weather phenomenon creates rainbows around the sun, and according to meteorologist, halo is formed by the reflection of ice crystals.  REUTERS/Ueslei Marcelino (BRAZIL - Tags: ENVIRONMENT TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY) - RTR2S1UT

Challenging yourself is fundamental to personal growth, says Jon Levy. Image: REUTERS/Ueslei Marcelino

Richard Feloni
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Jon Levy is constantly putting himself into uncomfortable situations, from something as simple as asking a celebrity he never met before to join his "Influencers" group or running with the bulls in Spain.

Levy founded the Influencers six years ago as a way to establish a TED Talk-type of environment within the sprawling Manhattan apartment he inherited. He said that he's now hosted around 900 people at either his Influencer dinners or salons, and through sponsor partnerships he's made a business out of it.

He's collected the networking and goal-setting insights he's learned through his group as well as his extensive world travels in his book "The 2 AM Principle."

One idea that underlies his approach to life is the idea of "optimal anxiety." As he wrote, "If your heart rate doesn't increase, then the challenge is too easy. If you want to live an interesting life, you should accept challenges you don't know how to complete."

He pointed to early 20th century research from the psychologists Robert M. Yerkes and John D. Dodson, which suggests that there is an ideal amount of stimulation the body can feel to perform at its best.

This was later expanded upon by many other researchers, including the Hungarian psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, who coined the term "flow," a state of stimulation that allows for peak performance — this is the feeling often associated with professional athletes.

In "The 2 AM Principle," Levy said this approach should be extended to social situations, as well.

He advocates for embracing the adrenaline surge that comes with nerves, rather than running from it. As Stanford professor Kelly McGonigal explained in her popular TED Talk from 2013, "How to Make Stress Your Friend," stress (or nervous energy) is not inherently bad; your increased heart rate is meant to prepare your body for action, and it only becomes negative when our conscious mind associates it with preparing for danger leading to failure.

"It is all about finding that happy medium of your state of optimal anxiety, that place just outside your comfort zone where things are fun and exciting but not crippling," Levy wrote.

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