Turning stressors into motivators

by Aldric Chau

When managed effectively, stress can help to spur you on to greater heights

Alex Cheung, master trainer
Professional Training & Strategy Ltd
Photos: Wallace Chan

Everybody experiences stress, whether it is work-related, the result of a relationship gone wrong or linked to a major life change. While stress can cause physical and mental health problems, it can also have the positive effect of motivating people to perform well in various aspects of their lives or managing difficult situations.

Alex Cheung, master trainer, Professional Training & Strategy Ltd, shared his expertise on coping with stress and using it as a positive force at a recent Career Times seminar on Turning Stress into a Motivational Force.

A qualified civil engineer, Dr Cheung changed careers a decade ago when he moved into the field of neuro-linguistic programming (NLP), a set of proven behavioural psychological skills that can be employed in business, management, coaching, education and other fields.

Understanding stress

Stress can be a part of daily life, or it can occur as a result of events that force people out of their comfort zone, for instance, making an impromptu speech. While it can manifest as blushing, sweating or shivering, it may also remain undetected while becoming a progressive health threat.

One common stressor is worrying about things that may or may not happen in the future, such as the possibility of being made redundant. "This can lead to physical symptoms such as insomnia, loss of appetite and anxiety," Dr Cheung said. There is also evidence that stress can suppress the immune system, making one more susceptible to disease over time.

"The worst thing about stress is its cumulative effect," Dr Cheung pointed out. "For example, someone who misses his train to work can end up blaming himself or others and worry that his boss will be angry when he arrives late for work. Dwelling on these factors can lead to a vicious circle, where the initial stressful situation leads to even more stress."

However, not all stress is bad, Dr Cheung said, adding that the optimum level of stress drives performance. A professional that can perform well in an important meeting and use moderate stress as a motivational factor to prepare a course of action tends to perform better than someone in a completely stress-free setting.

"To use stress as a motivator, it is important to understand its sources," Dr Cheung emphasised. "Once people understand the stress-formation process, they are a step closer to effective stress management."

ABC stress management

Only by manipulating emotion, mind, body and attitude can one turn stress into a motivational force, Dr Cheung told the audience. He explained that while a "triggering event" usually leads to an immediate stress response, it is possible for people to learn to cope with stress by training themselves to "think before they feel".

For example, a person assigned a job across the border may prefer to look at the opportunities and exposure offered by the huge mainland market, rather than dwell on the fact that his job will be taking him away from home. "This is an example of altering the cognitive route," Dr Cheung said.

Stress is an unpleasant state that can cause tension and negative emotions. Merely fighting it may not be useful. "By using stress as a motivator, it can help produce results that would not have been achieved in a completely stress-free environment," he added.

By changing attitudes and perceptions, stumbling blocks can be turned into stepping stones — even in today's difficult economic climate, Dr Cheung concluded.


  • Optimum stress level drives success
  • Understanding stress leads to effective stress management
  • "Think before you feel" in order to cope better with stress

Taken from Career Times 03 July 2009, p. B6
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