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Stress Lessons from Apollo 13

Having just returned from two weeks of vacation and having read the book Stress for Success by Jim Loehr [he co-authored The Power of Full Engagement with Tony Schwartz, a book I highly recommend], I can tell you I learned first hand the value of having too much relaxation as opposed to too much stress.
I’ll have some more observations from the book to offer in the weeks ahead, however I thought it valuable to offer one segment of the book that I enjoyed . The book speaks to the importance of stress, and how stress isn’t the problem in our lives, it’s how we handle stress. The critical factor is being able to recover and have balance. In other words if you have large amounts of stress you must have a balance of rest and recovery. Too much stress and you are going to have major difficulties with your health, relationships, temperament, etc.   Yet no stress is equally as debilitating. In fact all of us know someone who spent years working in a very stressful job, decided to retire and shortly there after died. The lack of stress is just as negative as too much. In fact just as the proper stress on our muscles through exercise causes us to increase our strength, so will stress in our jobs, relationships, etc., help grow our capacity in these areas of our life.
In the chapter on “It’s About Being Right Upstairs” Jim Loehr speaks to the importance of mental training. He provides 7 approaches for mental training for corporate athletes that are most useful and effective for accelerating the toughening process he urges business leaders adopt. I’ll provide those seven in another blog. First the story that struck me from one of these seven on Preparing with Mental Rehearsal.
You may be familiar with Apollo 13 the movie or the story on how we almost lost that crew on their flight to the moon. Tom Hanks played the role of the flight commander, yet it was the work on the people on the ground that helped save the crew from disaster. Gerry Griffin, the Apollo 13 Fight Director offered this quote in the book, “The most important factor in my ability to successfully manage the Apollo 13 catastrophe was preparation. We were constantly rehearsing catastrophic failure. We built layers of options. One of our mission rules was: No surprises! Failure was simply not an option. I never once considered we might not get them back. Our motto was "Shining Ex­ample of Perfection." We rehearsed finding answers to impossible sit­uations so many times before, we absolutely believed we could solve the Apollo 13 crisis. We just knew we could. Without the preparation, however, we had no chance. Preparation is knowing what to do and rehearsing it over and over.”
In business we often neglect to prepare our people for the battles they will face. It’s no different than how we often neglect our children in the belief that we are not making things more difficult for them. In reality just the opposite is true. When we don’t discipline our children we prepare them for an unrealistic world where they will discover there are consequences for their actions. When we don’t prepare and be tough on our people to meet the challenges they will face we do them a disservice and we set them and our company up for failure. We can fall asleep believing one of our managers and even ourselves are being good leaders by taking a popularity poll on how much our staff may like us or them. In truth a leader needs to be tough on his people. He needs to urge them to achieve their potential and that requires testing them, forcing them to do things they don’t want to do in anticipation of the challenges that lie ahead. 
This book helped me to recognize the value of discipline and routine in my life and the life of any organization. When struggles occur, as they are right now in most businesses due to the difficult economy, the businesses that succeed are those that have discipline and routines engrained in their company’s DNA. Success isn’t luck, it is preparation. Many times it requires blind faith, constant repetition, and dogged determination with no certainty of the outcome.  
My son recently quit a 13 week exercise program designed to help him increase his vertical jumping ability. He is just 13 and 6 foot tall and he had dreams of dunking the ball. He quit the program about 6 weeks into it. He simply felt it wasn’t working. I’m not sure if he wasn’t following it correctly or if the affects of the program wouldn’t emerge until the program was completed. It is a disappointment to me he failed to continue it despite what he felt he wasn't getting from it. To me it was just as important that he complete this rigorous training for the full 13 weeks more than the results since I felt it would teach him discipline. I’ve since forced upon him another discipline that I will make sure he follows that has nothing to do with sports in and effort to help him realize the value of a disciplined approach.   I’m not sure he will appreciate this now but I sincerely hope in the future he will realize its value. I realize now the value my mother and father’s efforts to get me to do my homework right away when I got home from school, to make my bed, help wash and wipe the dishes and the many other chores I hated and dreaded meant to me. They helped me to develop a routine that has paved the way for me to be more successful. There are many other routines and disciplines they tried to teach me to follow that I have failed on, however knowing the value of routine now more fully I intend to practice the methods Jim Loehr offers in his book so I can fully appreciate the rewards they bring. 
I’ve got some other stories to relate from my vacation, however I’d like you to begin thinking about stress, routine and discipline. Has past stress opened the way to growth for you? Can you recall where a stressful situation helped you to deal with a subsequent situation better? Can you appreciate where a discipline you followed or a routine you’ve set up has helped you perform better. Have you practiced and prepared, mentally rehearsed for situations and been able to perform better due to this training? Where can that be helpful today with you or your business?   

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