How to boost your growth while reframing stress (Stress Goals)


Trying to avoid stress reduces your well-being, happiness and life satisfaction. Fortunately, there’s a much better way to view stress.

What to do

Boost your professional and personal growth while reframing and buffering stress by setting three yearly and weekly stress goals.

Why it works

Trying to avoid stress is a terrible idea. You’ll reduce your well-being, happiness and life satisfaction, writes Stanford Professor Kelly McGonigal (pictured above) in her fantastic book “The Upside of Stress”. The reasons are avoidant coping, missed opportunities and a tendency to limit your future. That’s why McGonigal has a conception of stress that I love: “Stress is what arises when something you care about is at stake”. She also has a terrific method for using stress to grow both professionally and personally: stress goals.

Stress goals are ambitious, meaningful and difficult. Accomplishing them is challenging and – you’ve guessed it – stressful. Setting stress goals adds meaning to your pursuits and struggles, reframing and buffering stress along the way. Going for exactly three professional and personal stress goals has two huge advantages. First, you’ll figure out what matters most to you, both professionally and personally. Second, you’ll keep three goals top of mind. Your brain evolved to think in patterns, and three is the smallest number forming a pattern.

After setting your yearly stress goals, you need to break them down to the week. This helps you avoid a common problem most of us are familiar with: in December or January, we set some lofty goals. But in February, we don’t remember them (let alone make progress towards them). Breaking your yearly stress goals down to the week will give you 52 chances to make better choices — instead of just one. Lastly, you need to implement your goals daily. While machines are programmable by mere knowledge (i.e. code), humans are not. We only change through repeated behavior (via what scientists call“neuroplasticity”). That’s why, if you want to grow and turn your goals into results, daily action is key.

How to do it

1) Start by setting three ambitious, meaningful and difficult professional yearly stress goals. Examples include acing that important project at work, getting the early promotion, or starting a side business. Then, similarly, set three personal stress goals – that is, health and relationship and ones. The former could include getting to a specific weight or body composition, while the latter could be spending a certain number of hours each week with people you care most about.

2) Next, set three weekly stress goals. At the beginning of each week, recall your yearly stress goals. Then, set three professional and personal goals until the end of that week. Pick ambitious, meaningful and difficult ones that move the needle on your yearly goals. These could include rocking a presentation on that important work project, hitting a particular body weight milestone, or having dinner with a good friend.

3) Lastly, do one thing daily to reach each goal. As James Clear writes, “every action is a vote for the type of person you wish to become”. You really want to cast these votes daily. Write one page. Run one mile. Call one friend. It’s all about getting in the reps. Examples could include a “deep work” habit to focus on that most important work project for 30-60 minutes each morning, or exercising for at least 10 minutes a day. A pro tip is using a habit tracker like Productive. I’m not affiliated with that company, but I have been using their app for years. It’s a total game-changer.

Nothing meaningful in life is easy. Nothing easy in life is meaningful. 

Stress goals add meaning to your pursuits and struggles, reframe and buffer stress, and boost your professional and personal growth. 

We’re four days into 2024. Start setting and implementing today. You got this!