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“Why do engineers build bends in roads?” That’s the question with which clinical psychologist and cognitive neuroscientist Ian Robertson begins his new book, The Stress Test: How Pressure Can Make You Stronger and Sharper, due for release in January. The answer, explains Robertson, is that a road without bends—an endlessly, monotonously straight highway—lulls our brains into a state of “autopilot.” And in energy-saver, half-alert state, it’s surprisingly easy to make a dumb mistake—or fail to react quickly to a change in circumstances. When driving a two-ton vehicle 60 miles an hour, such flashes of mental failure can be deadly, of course.

Luckily for us, though, the road of life has no shortage of bends, says Robertson, the T. Boone Pickens Distinguished Scientist at the Center for BrainHealth at the University of Texas, at Dallas. Sure, those bends, quite often, manifest as stress, often bringing profound anxiety when we’re not prepared for them. But here’s the rub: That stress, says Robertson, can actually help us perform better if we know how to harness it.

Consider the prospect of taking a surprise math quiz. “If you worry about and doubt your ability” to perform well on the test, stress weakens your performance, Robertson says. “But if you don’t worry about your ability, stress can boost your performance—and in this case the more of it the better.” A sudden boost of cortisol that flummoxes the math-anxious has the opposite effect on the non-anxious, research shows: It pushes the person into the “performance sweet spot.”

The good news is we can actually train ourselves to turn our quotidian panic into the kind of rush that great sluggers feel when they get that “hero moment” at the plate. For them, that 0-2, two-out, tie-game fastball looks as fat and slow as a volleyball.

The actual how-to aspects of this transformation are snuck in here and there in Robertson’s book, which is largely a review of the author’s own discovery of this revelation through the course of his work and life experience. But that history, and the fascinating case studies he discusses, are worth reading.

If nothing else, in this week of pre-holiday deadlines, last-minute-shopping anxiety, travel and traffic, it’s good to be reminded that whatever doesn’t kill us... can make us stronger.

“工程师为什么要在公路上建弯道?”临床心理学家和认知神经科学家伊恩·罗伯森的新书《压力测试:压力如何让你变得更强大和更敏锐》(The Stress Test: How Pressure Can Make You Stronger and Sharper),便以这个问题开篇。本书将在今年1月出版发行。罗伯森对这个问题的回答是,没有弯道的公路,即单调漫长、笔直的高速公路,会欺骗我们的大脑进入一种“自动驾驶”的状态。而令人意外的是,在精力和警惕性下降的状态下,人们很容易犯下愚蠢的错误,或者当环境发生变化时无法迅速做出反应。当你以每小时60英里的速度驾驶一辆两吨重的汽车时,这种大脑的瞬间短路可能是致命的。

但罗伯森表示,幸运的是,人生的道路从来都不缺少弯道。罗伯森是德克萨斯大学达拉斯分校(University of Texas, at Dallas)脑健康中心的T. 布恩·皮肯斯杰出科学家。当然,这些弯道通常会表现为压力,而当我们没有做好准备的时候,这些压力往往会产生大量的焦虑。但难点在于:罗伯森表示,压力实际上可以帮助我们表现得更好,前提是我们知道如何驾驭压力。



关于完成这种转变的具体指导,隐藏在罗伯森新书的字里行间 ,这本书大部分回顾了作者在工作和生活当中,发现这一事实的具体过程。但他在书中讨论的历史和有趣的案例,很值得一读。





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