December 18, 2012

The Underdog Architecture Student's "9 Ways Succesfful People Defeat Stress" Response



I just recently ran across this article over the weekend on Harvard Business Review blog site on the 9 Ways Successful People Defeat Stress by Heidi Grant Halvorson. Quite inspired and got a lot from it, I thought I would put an Architecture School twist to the nine points. Some of the nine points were things that I had to work on and realize in undergrad. It is good to read the actual article first before looking at mine architecture students. When I was an architecture student, there were many times I was stressed out. The key is to learn from those experiences by looking at what went wrong, what can be improved and find ways to improve your work ethic and handling of those stressful times. As a lot of students reach the end of the winter term, it might be good to take a breather and look back at how you handled the situation. We don't get any time at all to take a step from the stress of studio and projects during the semester to reflect.

(Here's a heads up: Everyone deals and handles with stress differently - you have to  figure out what works for you. What has worked for me might not work for everyone.)

  1. Have Self-Compassion. 
    I’m going to have to be honest, this something that I struggled a lot when I was a student. I was hard on myself – for not being the best, for not keeping the 4-year track of my degree. I realized my design work was not at best when I was looking at what I did in the past. You have to practice being compassionate to yourself, for your efforts, your progress, especially your mistakes and screw-ups. You won’t be able to move forward in life without being confident and comfortable with who you are. I would not have made the progress I would have made until I began to give myself some slack, and give myself some credit.

  2. Remember the Big Picture. 
    Take each moment in life as a challenge to get somewhere and if you fail or mess up, it does not define you – it’s an opportunity to improve and to grow. As a recent grad, I have heard from professionals and I know at first hand that your grades mean nothing outside the academic realm. School is just a small part in the process to building up a career - a sliver in comparison to your life. Grades is not the be all and end all. For your projects that received a bad grade, or that courses that you failed – there’s always room to grow and they don't have to define you unless you let it. A bad design review or bad mark is not the end - there's always opportunities tomorrow to do better. Malcolm Gladwell has the 10 000 hour rule – you’ll get to be that idealized skillful version of yourself if you are willing to bank those hours of experience and couple that with dedication and persistence through successes and failures. Stay hopeful, there’s room to grow (even after school me and my friends do design competitions to keep flexing our design muscles). Some things at small scale are not worth stressing about when looking at the overall picture.

  3. Rely on Routines. 
    The preface of this point on this article is that we get overwhelmed with a lot of items to decide upon on our things to do each day. As a designer you have to be decisive and strategic and on your feet as a designer. Know which issues are pressing with a design solution and quickly make those decisions, they can change but you need something out there to keep a project progressing. You need to find a way to consistent routine to work on your project to build up your process and progress work to soften the final push to deadline.

  4. Take 5-10 minutes to do something you find interesting. 
    Stuck on a design for studio? Perhaps doing something interesting to make it fun! Maybe frame that project to the things you are interested in doing just to switch it up and have fun with it. I had a friend who studied illustration before coming to architecture school, and I remember in first year his cartoons of peers and professors giving him feedback on his project. For some people it's watching a short TED Talk video to keep inspired. I personally am an analogue guy who loves cranking out sketch models and drawings to keep interested in the project. The same goes for my friends that love parametic and biomorphic design who use grasshopper to get their project rolling. You have to find your interests and use it as a means to energize and inspire to keep you engaged during a project.

  5. Add where and when to your to-do list. 
    Specific – know your plan of action and be specific, knowing when and where you will do a task will make it likely to do that task as opposed to just listing your tasks. From reading this post, it reminds me of the importance of creating SMART Goals and Tasks (Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Realistic, Time-Bound)

  6. Use if-thens for positive self-talk.
    In the first place, you have to be your motivator to tackle self doubt and insecurities. It's tough, we're in a design program centered around critique which can be a blow to ones esteem (must admit, our generation had it easy for design reviews if you ask our older professors). In the article, this is predicated on the need to define how you would want to cope when faced with stressful situation and ensure your actions are leading up to how you want to handle it (calm, cool, positive). I took this point and felt like it had to do with changing up your context to be positive as well. If you want to be positive during the stressful deadline crunch then surround yourself with positive people or change your environment to a calming space to ensure that you can cope with the situation positively. I think this involves changing your environment and surroundings to keep calm.

  7. See your work in terms of progress, not perfection. 
    I think some of my best work in school came from me taking the switch from being focus on the end result to being process-oriented. You need to consider both as a designer – being able to explore and experiment, while being able to deliver come deadline. I found for myself, that getting worked up on an idealized end result was immobilizing and didn't get anywhere - because I was scared of perfection and not even working towards progress. Realize that working towards your project deadline is the constant layering and coagulation of information you have discovered in the design process. Some parts maybe redone, some parts may be revised, some parts may be deleted. The more information you aggregate in your project early on in the game, the better resolved. The more you bring out the issues at hand early on in the outset, the better.
     

  8. Think about the progress that you've already made. 
    Being in a competitive program like architecture and other design fields can get the best out of you. Your classmate beside you has the best project out there that gravitates all the studio professors for desk crits and peers to check out for the review, the one behind you is getting awards and doing projects with professors, and your friend is winning scholarships. Seeing everyone around you doing good can be demoralizing and even a blow to your ego.  At the end of the day, I learned that I had to stop comparing myself to others and realize that I came a long way as a student that finished my degree. I improved and built my own skill set in my own way. All of us are talented and have our strengths to offer to architecture. All of us have battled architecture school with our own circumstances, which makes our internal comparisons to our peers unfair. The best comparison of study is where you were then, and where you are today. (Honestly, every time my classmates walk around studio and look over my shoulder to look at my work and other peers work to gratify themselves if they're on top or not, I just see it as a sign of great insecurity)

  9. Know whether optimism or defensive pessimism works for you. 
    Check out the article. There are two ways people get motivated either through promotion or pessimistic focus. You have to find what works for you. I have friends that get stressed out early on in the game and then feel safe during submissions, I find others that get stressed at the final hour and get their act together, and I find students that just remain calm throughout the process. In architecture school, you’ll have to find out what is the best way to keep you motivated in working towards the finish line. I had to realize that I work at my best with optimism, and not with peers and around me psyching me out and telling me I’m not doing it right. I had to tune those people out in order to improve. Know yourself, and what works. 
What did you do as a design student to cope with stress?

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