Stress is part of life. Too much stress, over a sustained period, is clearly damaging, but normally we can deal effectively with short bouts. In fact, while stress may be uncomfortable, it can actually be a key motivator and the right amount of it can help to boost our performance.
But there is a limit. Too much stress and the opposite tends to happen, leading our confidence and performance to decline at a rapid rate. The stress and performance relationship is often seen as an upside down “U” – as you get more stressed, your performance improves until you reach an optimum point – then it declines. In reality, it is more common for it to act as a motivator and then reach a sudden and severe drop – this is something I like to refer to as falling off the “fear cliff”.
Stress can easily turn to fear and what happens when fear raises its ugly head is twofold. First, all our good intentions go out the window and we snap back into our comfort zones. Second, we panic and believe that just because in the past we have made a mistake this is bound to happen again.
To avoid the “fear cliff” it is important to take a couple of steps back from the edge and think about your goals in advance. Set yourself realistic targets, two hours study may well be effective, but four hours is not twice as effective.
Research shows that the human brain can only effectively concentrate for about 45 minutes – after that your concentration levels dip. So make sure you plan breaks into your revision schedule. Split the day into hour-long chunks knowing that for the last 10-15 minutes of the hour you will have a break before you move on to your next topic.