Inner Peace is Overrated


Don’t tell the Buddhist I’m interviewing for her keen business insights next week, but I’m not sure inner peace is right for everyone. Oh sure, you might go around smelling the flowers and noticing the unique chirp of this or that bright yellow bird in the backyard, but will you get anything done?

In the book Overachievement, author John Eliot is offers a convincing argument that relaxing under pressure is the wrong way to go. He counsels would be superstars to forgo the deep breathing and give in to the glorious pressure, trusting it to propel you toward greater achievements than you can accomplish with diligent goal setting and plodding work.

“Stress is the high-level performer’s Power Bar.”

This week I tend to believe him. This week I have virtually no responsibilities outside work. I also have no pressing deadlines. Nothing’s pressing, nothing’s important, and nothing’s exciting.

Eliot says:

“I actually have recommended to some clients to create even more chaos at work so that getting any work done at all will force them to be in the present. It’s a variation of the newspaper reporter on deadline: If your job depends on getting things done in a busy, noisy area, your brain will find a way to concentrate.”

Well when he puts it that way, maybe the Buddhist would agree.

What do you think? Is I-work–better-under-pressure a valid strategy, an ill-advised delusion, or just a hopeless cliche?

Image Credit: Hape_gera, Flickr

  • todd

    Actually, there’s a zen branch, Rinzai, that uses this same principle. Things are doing quickly so that you pay attention.

    But I think the human body mechanism needs some downtime just for the nervous system to function properly.

    If you’re bored you might want to examine the purpose of your life and see if you are living that way. Just a thought.

  • I think it’s certainly a balance, but I agree that stress is needed in order to get better. It’s like working out–the only way you can increase your capacity and productivity is to continue to push past previous limits.

    I explore the idea further in a post called Why Stress Isn’t a Bad Thing if you want read more on that concept.

  • Reformed Stresser

    I used to be a firm believer in stress-makes-me-a-better-worker camp. After all, when I was in school, the years I had less overall activity, the worse my grades were. However, I have found that works only to a point. The body doesn’t see the difference between “good stress” and “bad stress” – it only sees stress and it is a matter of time until all that stress catches up with you. A little rest makes you overall stronger and gives your body a chance to catch up. Sure, for some people, that might be 1 day twice a year as compared to two weeks, but I think everyone needs a little rest. Call me crazy.

  • Green Man

    The right balance between demanding stresses and detachment from the material plane seems to be essential for a healthy human life that is both productive and fulfilling. Hospitals & psychiatrist offices are full of people who have the demanding stresses part right, but can’t seem to transcend their perpetual co-dependent engagement with externalities by spending quality time with their own souls. Similarly, monasteries and rehab facilities are full of people who spend lots of quality time with their own souls, but don’t engage very productively with the material world. Like many things in the Western World, overachieving is overrated by overachievers, who gain access to the media because of the notoriety of their overachievements and then give us all advice from behind the mask of their public persona. Try living with and loving an overachiever and then you will see where the lack of balance actually leads. You may find that The Middle Way is the most desirable path with the most enduring satisfactions.

  • Drea

    Great post, Lela! I think it depends on the individual. Some people just don’t handle stress very well, while others thrive on bucketloads of it. I’ve noticed that when I become compulsive about work (workaholicky, for lack of better words), that means I could use rest. Likewise, when I feel too relaxed to work, I could use some stress. Like Green Man indicated, balance is probably the most sane path.

  • Lela Davidson

    Good point, Drea, but it sure takes a steady mind to strike the right balance. ‘Too relaxed to work’ is definitely a problem.

  • Lela Davidson

    Too true, Greenman. Interesting point about the monasteries. Also very insightful about the advice we receive from the overachievers ‘from behind the mask of their public persona’. We don’t see them having a panic attack at 3am.

  • Lela Davidson

    Reformed Stresser makes a good point too. The amount of rest needed varies so much from one individual to the next. But we’re always comparing ourselves to others, aren’t we?

  • Lela Davidson

    Office Humorist, I agree that we have to break out of our comfort zones to grow. Sometimes a deadline can be your best friend.

  • I disagree with Reformed Stresser regarding all stress being the same. If I have a dream project, one I’m in love with and I’m up against a strict deadline I feel motivated and inspired to complete it AS I’m feeling the stress and pressure. However, if I’m involved with something I loathe but have a deadline I must reach then I probably feel miserable and have a brain-busting headache. The key, is doing (as often as we can) the things that feed our mission and purpose. And yes, balance is the key. There is a time for motivating stress and a time for inner peace. We all need to find time to go within and spend time in silence. It’s the only way to truly know who we are at our core. What’s more important than that? Certainly not seeing how much more we can get done at work.

  • Lela Davidson

    While I agree that the *good* stress feels great for a while, eventually you have to come back down to reality – and if you stay in the pressure zone too long, no matter how productive and exciting, I think you’ll still feel the effects over time.

  • I believe that a person should try to keep a balance in life. stress is healthy in life but extra stress and for a long period of time can cause harm. one can work better in pressure but extra pressure can also cause frustration