Lovely L’s and the human performance curve

by Alice Dommert
July 14, 2019
Stress, Wholebeing

Recently a friend shared about relocating with her growing young family for the third time in six years. Each time the move had prompted her to make new friends, find new places to teach yoga and set up a new house. While it was not always easy, she had developed the ability to “get comfortable with the uncomfortable and learn to just be present.” That pressure and tension of moving had built her skills and prompted her growth.

Lovely L’s

This made me think of the lovely L’s. In the partner dance, West Coast Swing, the follower holds their arms up, bent at the elbow in what my teacher calls, a lovely L. The leader holds onto the follower’s hands with their arms in a similar position. The lovely L position matters, but what matters more is how the partner’s hands meet—in a perfectly balanced tension.

Why would tension be important? This tension in the dance holds the lines of communications between the dancers. If one partner is leaning in too much and the tension starts to sag, the communications get muddled. If one partner is pulling too hard and the tension is too much, communications get muddled. This tension is necessary between partners in order for the dance to happen. In life, we also need some just-right tension between us and our outer world circumstances, in order to grow.

The Yerkes-Dodson Law

This balance of just enough tension is the underlying idea of The Human Performance Curve based on the Yerkes-Dodson Law. This law tracks the relationship between arousal and performance. Way back in 1908, psychologists Robert Yerkes and John Dillingham Dodson used mild electrical shocks to guide rats through a maze. With mild electrical shocks, the rats navigated the maze more quickly. More arousal, better performance. With stronger shocks, however, they became overstimulated and failed to complete the maze.

That zone of just the right amount of arousal, or tension, is the necessary condition of good stress. In the infographic below, created by Bryant College, you see the center zone of eustress, good stress, and optimal performance. Beyond that zone is the zone of distress where performance quickly diminishes.

So often we view stress as bad, as something to avoid, as something to manage. But we need the arousal, the disruption of the norm, the tension, in order to grow. So why still the resistance to tension and perception of it being uncomfortable?

Infographic by Bryan College

What’s interesting is that the front side of the curve where employees are under-stimulated is equally as uncomfortable. If this infographic is accurate, then 51% of workers are unengaged at work. Unengaged is a broad term, it could be the actual work tasks or the lack of personal meaning of the work or the overall organization’s purpose. Being under-stimulated can actually feel even worse. When we are bored, thoughts can quickly become self-critical and harsh. With some tension, we are pressing forward toward something, we are choosing to grow.

A new language for being uncomfortable

I like these ideas yet often the scientific language of studies and mazes with rats leaves me yearning for something richer for my mind and heart to tether myself to when I find myself drifting into those spaces beyond the zone of good stress.
How do I recognize and nudge myself when I get tired and bored and want to shrink back to the safety of not taking a risk? What soft, sweet words can I offer myself when I push too hard?

I want to welcome and embrace the vibrant tension of stretching to grow.
I want to aspire to the vibrant tension of stretching to grow.
I want to abide in the vibrant tension of stretching to grow.

Yoga is the practice of the vibrant tension of stretching to grow. The most beautiful discovery, even a few yoga poses a day (or even a few minutes a day like my friend Jim!) has you well on your way.

And a yin yoga practice is my favorite for that. Check out this yin practice this week.

My invitation to you this week is to find your just-right vibrant tension. Where might you need a little more effort? Where are you disengaged or bored? Where might you need a bit more effort to find the perfect, vibrant tension to stretch for growth?

I’d love to hear what happens. Be well.

Alice Dommert

Alice Dommert

Founder, Wholebeing Architect

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