What is Your Window of Tolerance?

As we are fully aware, there are many stressors in our lives, both personally and professionally. 

It amazes me how some people handle these stressors extremely well while others are always on the verge of having a meltdown.

Is it harder to remain sane when we are confronting so many more changes and challenges than ever before? 

It is not just the usual suspects like the economy, our family and friends, the workplace overall, and the weather but now we are faced with more complex issues, like emerging technologies, including artificial intelligence and Chat-GPT, healthcare, etc.

All of this can affect us physically and mentally, both in the short term and into the future.

Some stress, however, is actually good for us but it is identifying the balance which is tricky. 

According to an article written by Ashley Abramson for Forge, the ideal is to find a balance between too much and not enough stress; in other words, the sweet spot where the brain functions best, or what psychologists call the “window of tolerance.”

This phrase was created by trauma specialist and psychiatrist, Dan Siegel in his 1999 book The Developing Mind.

His concept is that the window of tolerance is where the prefrontal cortex, the reasoning part of your brain, is most active and engaged.

When you shift outside the window by being anxious or conversely, by being sluggish, your brain slows down, resulting in having a harder time taking in new information.

In today’s fast paced workplace, there is way too much information being thrown at us where we must act or react quickly. 

In addition, there are demands from outsiders, including vendors, consultants, customers, partners, etc., that sometimes need to be addressed before we can tackle our own daily duties.

To combat all of this, it is important to take stock of what energizes you and what deflates you.

Keeping a journal of your day where you record your activities and level of productivity can provide you with insights and patterns to your behavior.

The important thing to keep in mind is that this can change over time. 

Some project or endeavor that you were so excited about can quickly become annoying or overly difficult.

Or something that was interesting to you a year ago is now becoming mundane, so you operate on autopilot with little or no stimulation.

Re-evaluating each day or at least once a week is important to keep motivated and engaged.

As leaders, it is important for you to also encourage your team to reflect as well because if their window of tolerance is shifting you may be losing a valuable employee and that can add to your stress level, resulting in your window of tolerance moving in the wrong direction.