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The Upside of Stress: Why Stress Is Good for You, and How to Get Good at It Paperback – May 10, 2016
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Advance Praise for The Upside of Stress:
“In this smart, practical book, Kelly McGonigal shows that stress isn’t nearly as bad as its reputation. In fact, if we change our mindsets just a bit, we can transform stress from a barrier that thwarts to a resource that propels us. The Upside of Stress is a perfect how-to guide for anyone who wants to tap into the biology of courage and the psychology of thriving under pressure.”
—Daniel H. Pink, author of Drive and To Sell Is Human
“A fascinating tour of cutting-edge research on how stress affects us in ways, both good and bad, that we never suspect. McGonigal brings scientific studies to life, makes her lessons tangible and provides fascinating take-aways for anyone who experiences stress -- which, let's face it, is all of us, often all the time.”
—Charles Duhigg, MBA, author of The Power of Habit
“A courageous, counterintuitive, and convincing case for a big idea: stress can be good for you. This enchanting, evidence-based book has already transformed how I think about stress, and I recommend it highly to anyone who lives in the 21st century.”
—Adam Grant, Ph.D., Wharton professor and author of Give and Take
“Through stories and science, McGonigal reveals how to change your mindset and tap into your resources for handling stress.”
—Amy Cuddy, Ph.D., Associate Professor at Harvard Business School and author of Presence
“The Upside of Stress turns our common misunderstanding of what we often believe is the necessary toxicity of a pressured life completely upside down. Kelly McGonigal powerfully teaches us how to transform the suffering of misguided stress into a meaningful and thriving life. Read this book even if you think you are too stressed to take the time--It has the potential to change your life forever.”
—Daniel J Siegel, M.D., author of Mindsight and Brainstorm
"Often we regard stress as a regrettable but necessary evil -- the heavy price we pay for achievement in a fast-forward, competitive, “always on” world. In this important and engaging book, Kelly McGonigal challenges us to discard that familiar, fear-based mindset and embrace stress as a path to realizing our most creative potential."
—Steve Silberman, author of NeuroTribes
“Kelly McGongial debunks decades of myths that have persisted around stress. The book is research based, immensely practical, compelling and insightful from the first page. This book will be a game changer for countless people.”
—Jim Loehr, EdD, Co-Founder of the Human Performance Institute and author of The New Toughness Training for Sports
“The Upside of Stress delivers an important truth: it is better to chase meaning than try to avoid discomfort. Through the insights of this book, you'll find your courage to pursue what matters most and trust yourself to handle any stress that follows.”
—Nilofer Merchant, CEO, Silicon Valley strategist, and author of The New How
“Kelly McGonigal has pulled back the curtain to reveal what allows exceptional people and organizations like my Navy SEAL brotherhood to thrive through adversity. True excellence is only achieved under great adversity, and by embracing those challenges with a positive mindset.”
—Scott Brauer, Co-Founder of Acumen Performance Group, and former Navy SEAL and U.S. Naval Officer
"The upside of Kelly McGonigal is that she not only shows how what we thought we knew about stress was backwards, but that getting it right will change your life for the better. This book provides an accessible user’s guide to leveraging the most cutting edge research in psychology and neuroscience to enhance your health and well-being."
—Matthew D. Lieberman, PhD, Chair of Social Psychology at University of California Los Angeles
For those individuals and teams that discover that stress is life's secret ingredient, they will be rewarded with expanded self confidence and rapidly growing organizations.
—Robert Daugherty, chairman of Knowledge Investment Partners, LLC
If you’ve ever complained of being stressed out, you need to read this perceptive, thought-provoking book. Kelly McGonigal reveals the surprising truth about why we should embrace the many unsung benefits of stress. The Upside of Stress will change the way you think—and it will change your experience of your life.
—Gretchen Rubin, author of Better Than Before and The Happiness Project
The message that stress can actually convey health benefits is important and needs to be heard. This thoughtful analysis on the role of mindset will prompt you to re-think your relationship with stress, and help you realize its benefits.
—Andrew Weil, MD, author of Spontaneous Happiness
Praise for Kelly McGonigal and The Willpower Instinct:
"Tired of the endless debate about whether man possesses free will or is predestined to lounge about gobbling Krispy Kreme donuts while watching TV? If you want action, not theory, The Willpower Instinct is the solution for the chronically slothful."
— USA Today
“A fun and readable survey of the field, bringing willpower wisdom out of the labs.”
— TIME magazine
About the Author
Kelly McGonigal, PhD, is a health psychologist and lecturer at Stanford University, and the author of the international bestseller The Willpower Instinct (Avery, 2011). As a leader in the field of "science help," McGonigal is passionate about translating cutting-edge research from psychology, neuroscience, and medicine into practical strategies for health, happiness, and personal success.
McGonigal has taught for a wide range of programs at Stanford University, including the School of Medicine, the Graduate School of Business, and Stanford Continuing Studies, where her popular public courses include "The Science of Willpower" and "How to Think Like a Psychologist." She has received Stanford's highest teaching honor, the Walter J. Gores award, for her undergraduate psychology teaching. Through her work with the Stanford Center for Compassion and Altruism Research and Education, she studies methods for training mindfulness, empathy, and compassion. Her research has appeared in such journals as Motivation and Emotion, the Journal of Happiness Studies, and the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology.
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I usually enjoy research, but in this book it is layered on so thick, that I kept finding myself skimming through the research and looking for the next pearl of wisdom - which were few and far between. I'm not sure how a person who isn't interested in research would be able to persevere?
In one of my breaks from the book (which were many) I had a closer look at some of the research quoted. For example early on in the book McGonical references research by Alia Crum (McGonical's pinup girl for mindsets) suggesting that a milkshake that was labelled as having high calories resulted in people feeling fuller (they had lower levels of ghrelin) than the same milkshake labelled as having low calories. The problem is if you read the research its says "This study did not find any significant differences with respect to subjective hunger regardless of mindset" <this quote directly from the actual research paper>
I then checked out more of Crum's research referenced by McGonical - this one linking a "stress is good"mindset to cortisol response. And again the research found no significant relationship between cortisol and the type of stress mindset.
It seems that McGonical may be inadvertently selectively quoting her research to prove her point.
This piqued my interest and I started to explore the research on mindsets - and what I found is that the research is mixed at best. More than often the research design is poor, with lots of confounding factors, and often not replicated when tested in the real world.
McGonical points to Carol Dweck's work on mindsets (One of Crum's mentors). But interestingly, a recent article in Science Based Medicine highlights the shortcomings of mindsets research (google news age quack science based medicine).
Realistically in the social sciences it easy to find research to support any position you want to take. Its just as easy to argue a strong case on the traditional "downside of stress" or to be cynical the "downside of an upside" perspective of stress.
The reality is that stress is far more nuanced than the "its all in the mind" perspective that McGonical is advocating.
I'm sure the upside of stress is relevant to some people (personally I like a bit of stress) but to extrapolate this onto everyone is a little misleading and inappropriate.
Part 1, Rethink Stress
- Chap 1: McGonigal works to show that you can change an established mindset, and that changing said mindset leads to positive outcomes (in relation to stress). She backs this stuff up with lots of research, which is a big plus in my view and made the chapter interesting to read. Lastly, she defines what a “changed mindset” looks like in relation to stress. She's telling us that our view shouldn't be that stress is all-good or that stress is all-bad, but that stress is a little of both. Overall, solid chapter.
- Chap 2: Reframing stress. Why stress is actually not bad for you, and why stress can be harnessed and translated into good. Research cited: young monkeys separated from their mothers actually had bigger prefrontal cortexes (making them more resilient). More surprising research: Men who are stressed out (contestants on a game show) had unusually high rates of trust and cooperation - around 75%. "Stress made the men prosocial. The stronger their hearts' response to stress, the more altruistic they became." Surprising and informative.
- Chap 3: A meaningful life is a stressful life. That's the title and, frankly, a good summary of this chapter. This is the point at which the book started to get a bit more choppy for me. Chapter three felt like chapter 2, continued. I underlined this sentence: "The most meaningful challenges in your life will come with a few dark nights." That rings absolutely true. However, is it really materially different from saying that stress can be good for us? I don't think this section needed to be a standalone chapter.
Moving to Part 2 of the book, titled Transform Stress
- Chap 4: Reframing stress, part… 3. Encourages you to take your body’s reaction (sweat, shaking, surge of adrenaline, anxiety) as a positive, not a negative. Think: my body, and all of its bristling, pent-up energy, can give me the courage to act in times of challenge. To me this chapter falls in with reframing stress (covered in part 1). I liked that Chapter 4 was a little more action-oriented than Chapter 3 since it is asking you to analyze your body's reaction to stress and view it as a positive, not a negative. There is an exercise in this chapter titled "Transform Stress: Turn Nerves into Excitement" that closes with, "When you need to take a leap and want to do well, don't worry about forcing yourself to relax. Instead, embrace the nerves, tell yourself you're excited, and know that your heart is in it." As I said, a bit more action-oriented, but still fundamentally in the camp of reframing how the audience thinks about stress.
- Chapter 5: Strong chapter. She tells you to deal with stress by getting outside of your own head. How? Focus on helping others. Be generous. Don't wait until you feel great about life to give to others, as being generous actually generates satisfaction. Next tidbit: people who feel alone with their stress - that no one else has issues like theirs - fall into avoidant/isolating behavior, with negative results. Resilient folks - who deal with stress well - understand that suffering is a part of everyone’s life, not just their own. This was a very valuable chapter: I really liked how prescriptive this chapter is. However, it also happens to clock in at 50 pages, and I did lose steam about mid-way through. There are a LOT of stories in this one.
- Chapter 6: Titled "How adversity makes you stronger." This piece talks about cultivating a growth versus fixed mentality. This topic has been hashed out already, so I'm a bit sad that this chapter was the closer for the "meat" of the book.
Lastly, turning to the final reflections chapter (the conclusion) - it's three pages total. A few snippets: “When you put away this book, you likely won’t have a clear sense of how its ideas will take root in your life. That’s part of the magic of mindset interventions.” “Would you struggle to remember any details at all? I can live with that. [Paraphrase: The parts that matter, I hope, will land in the heart].” Half of the last chapter is a story about how she now sets “stress goals” each year, defining how she will grow from stress.
Overall, like most books, The Upside of Stress falls into the camp of valuable, but could have been summarized in about 3 chapters. 3-4 stars.