For over one hundred years researchers have shown that there is a “sweet spot” for peak performance.  This “sweet spot” does involve being stressed.  

In 1908 Robert Yerkes and John Dodson wrote a paper called: "The relation of strength of stimulus to rapidity of habit formation".  They discovered in their study on mice that as they increased shock intensity mice would learn faster.  But only up to a point. Past this point the increase in shock intensity had a detrimental effect on them remembering information.

Since this discovery the findings have been applied on how we as humans learn and perform under stress, and more importantly where is our “sweet spot” of stress that enables us to learn and perform at our best.  



What has been found is that the optimum point is the plateau of the curve.  We all need some level of stress to perform at our optimum; otherwise we will be too relaxed to be paying full attention. However, we are all different and our “sweet spot” will be based on our personality, experience and expertise.

There is also another finding from the Yerkes-Donaldson rollercoaster that is interesting.  If tasks are simple the more stressed you are the faster you will perform. Adding more stress (arousal) can be useful if speed is what you are aiming for. If the tasks are complex and challenging then keep adding in stress will ultimately diminish your capacity to perform at your best.

Being conscious and aware of where you are in your own Yerkes-Dodson rollercoaster is really important.  Firstly you need to be aware of where you are right now…

  • Are you under stimulated/stressed, feeling bored, lacking in energy, distracted, disconnected or a sense of not caring about what is going on? 
  • Are you at the optimum level for you?  Do you feel active and energized and paying attention, going towards what is important to you.
  • Are your stress levels too high, do you feel like you are facing an impossible task, distracted, making lots of errors, exhausted or working very hard and getting nowhere. 


The good news is that with awareness of where you are you are able to make changes to sustain yourself to be at your best.  Here are some suggestions on how you can maneuver to your own “sweet spot”

Under stressed:


  • What is of interest in what you are doing?
  • What new questions or challenges can you take on that are interesting?
  • What questions can you ask of those around you to enquire further?
  • What can you be doing differently that would be more exciting or challenging?
  • What do you find energizing that you can do more of?


Sweet Spot:


  • Capture what this feels like, how does your body feel in this mode – know this so you can get yourself back here when you want to
  • Recognise who is supporting you and what resources you have that are enabling you
  • Maintain your time for rest, exercise and socializing
  • Share your ideas with others
  • Put in place plans that are realistic that build on what you are doing right now
  • Allow yourself to fully appreciate how things are right now


Overly Stressed:

  • Take more short breaks
  • Do something that is in your comfort zone and is easy for sections of your day
  • Draw on resources around to support you
  • Speak to people about how you are feeling
  • Make time to do what you enjoy and makes you smile
  • Ensure you are getting enough rest
  • Drink more water
  • Be kind to yourself, take off any personal pressure to compete or win
  • Allow yourself to take a step back and pick things up again when you are in a healthier mode that is right for you


Being aware of how things are for you, in the moment, is really important for managing your own stress levels.  Remember some stress is good for us, too much is not.  Mindfulness tools and techniques are great for learning how to be open and aware to what is really going on inside you moment by moment.  

Jill Chapman
Business Psychologist and Mindfulness Trainer


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