You Don’t Need to Rely on Stress to Get Things Done

Many entrepreneurs rely on stress to get things done.

Feeling rushed forces us to take action right away. Being under pressure motivates us to complete our projects. Adrenaline and cortisol (the primary stress hormone) push us to keep going.

In other words: stress helps be more successful. Or at least that’s what we often think.

For instance, I recently talked to a coaching client, let’s call her Amy (not her real name). In addition to being a successful entrepreneur, she’s also a massive over-achiever in other areas of life. By that I mean that Amy’s list of accomplishments is getting near the length of War and Peace.

Stress is a terrible long-term motivator

However, things weren’t as good for her as they looked on the surface: Amy was constantly stressed. She never got to relax. Worst of all, she didn’t even get to enjoy her many accomplishments at all.

Sadly, this is common for people who use stress to motivate themselves (which, realistically speaking, is the vast majority of us these days).

As we all know by now, chronic stress is bad. It’s just easy to forget how bad it is. But, as the American Psychological Association reminds us:

“Stress affects all systems of the body including the musculoskeletal, respiratory, cardiovascular, endocrine, gastrointestinal, nervous, and reproductive systems.”

Health problems associated with chronic stress include:

  • Anxiety,
  • Depression,
  • Headaches,
  • Sleep problems,
  • Memory and concentration impairment.

In other words, stress is a terrible long-term motivator. When you rely on stress to be productive, you’re essentially burning the candle on both ends. It’s just not a sustainable, long-term strategy.

So, what then is the alternative?

An alternative motivator

When I suggested to Amy that we should try to reduce her level of stress, she got worried and asked: “Will I still be able to perform at the same level?”

Like most people in her situation, Amy was concerned that she would not be able to accomplish as much without feeling stressed.

I explained to her something I had learned from my own business coach, Dr. Brian Whetten: there are two fuel sources — stress and purpose.

This difference is similar to how we power our vehicles. Cars can be fueled by gas or electricity. Both energy sources can help us get from one place to the other. However, there’s a crucial difference: unlike renewable energy, gas isn’t a very sustainable energy source.

Just like it is possible to fuel a car using electricity or gas, it is possible to get motivated in our work through stress or purpose.

And just as using gas to power our cars has all kinds of harmful environmental consequences, using stress to motivate us at work also has negative consequences. What I suggested to Amy (and what I would suggest to if you are struggling with chronic stress) is to switch to a renewable energy source: purpose.

How to be motivated by purpose

Typically, there is a deeper purpose that can drive you, aside from the busyness and daily goals and activities.

For some people, that has to do with inspiring others. For others, it’s about fully expressing themselves, or making life better for a certain group of people, or innovating, or making people laugh, or deeply understanding an issue, or or or.

Finding out what that purpose is for you goes beyond the scope of this article. For many people, this requires a journey of exploration.

However, you can still use purpose to motivate yourself, even if you don’t know your purpose.

That probably sounds contradictory so let me explain:

In addition to a specific purpose that’s more individual, we all have a general purpose. Almost everyone feels better when they help someone else. That’s the general purpose we share.

So, if you want to be motivated by purpose but don’t yet know your specific purpose, you can always focus on this question: “How am I helping someone else by doing this?”


As Brian Whetten once put it in a discussion:

Personally, I much prefer being pulled by purpose. It’s more fun, more rewarding, and more supportive of my wellbeing.

Using purpose to fuel your life is kind of like using renewable energy to fuel your electric car. That said, your purpose isn’t a sexy, sleek new Tesla. It’s way better than a Tesla because it doesn’t cost you anything and it lasts a lifetime.

Ready to take your new “car” for a spin?

P.S.: I help my clients become more productive in aligned ways. If you're interested, you can find more about my coaching here.

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View posts by Louise
Louise is the founder of Leader for Good. She's a former lawyer and academic who moved from Germany to the United States where she started her own business. Today, Louise loves helping her coaching clients and students connect with their passion and purpose. You can find out more about her coaching business at
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