#080 Steps to Crush Teen Stress and Bring Relief with Dr. Ben Bernstein Transcript


Lisa Marker Robbins  00:53

Having supported 1000s of teams over the last three and a half decades, I’ve seen many struggle with competence to put themselves out there. Even when the stakes are high. It might be trying out for an athletic team or theater performance, asking for a career informational interview or job shadow, or even as simple as hitting the connect button on LinkedIn. While they are taking my launch Career Clarity course, their anxiety and impostor syndrome can cripple their potential. One of my goals my work is to create confidence in teams. My new friend, Dr. Ben Bernstein, is a performance psychologist who overcame his own anxiety and self doubt. And now coaches others, including amateur to professional athletes, teens, navigating the AC T and SCT, CEOs, doctors and public speakers, he sharing how to help your team get in what he calls the zone, so they can thrive. I’m Lisa marker Robbins, and I want to welcome you to College and Career Clarity, a flourish coaching production. Let’s dive right into a great conversation. Dr. B, welcome.


Dr. Ben Bernstein  02:10

Thank you, Lisa. It’s just total pleasure to be here.


Lisa Marker Robbins  02:13

Ah, well, I It was great being with you at a conference recently. And I, we have such great overlap in that work that we do. It’s just wanting to see people get over the anxiety, lack of confidence, because there’s great things out there for them when they do,


Dr. Ben Bernstein  02:30

I would say wanting to what you said is totally accurate. Because we want to see them thrive. We want to see them blossom into who they really are.


Lisa Marker Robbins  02:37

And we know it’s possible even when they don’t think it is, of course. Absolutely. So you work. I mean, you’re working with teenagers up to you know, professional athletes. I think I even heard you say Olympian sometimes. And so you’ve got the whole gamut here. And as we think about the teenagers themselves, what do you see is the biggest struggle for teens when we’re talking about this anxiety, performance issues, putting themselves out there


Dr. Ben Bernstein  03:11

is such a great question. I think that the biggest challenge for teens, which I actually think is the biggest challenge for all of us in our life, but it’s particularly important and challenging in the teenage years, is what I would call self definition is who are you? You know, where are you headed? What are you all about? I think that’s particularly hard, because we don’t generally educate people to be more in touch with their unique cells, we kind of push them through Oh, I know, this is a big generalization. But I’ve been teaching for 50 years. So I feel like I could make this you’re allowed to kind of push them through an assembly line type of education, which does a certain thing about training, but it doesn’t draw a fourth the individuality of the person. So and then, you know, with social media and everybody comparing themselves, everybody, I don’t think that we give people the experience early enough of like, who am I self definition? And I think that is a big challenge.


Lisa Marker Robbins  04:13

You know, I if we’ve no, I’m amazed because we did not talk about this piece ever before in our several conversations. But as you say that, you know, the first thing we do inside the course that I teach, is we learn how to know ourselves deeply. Yeah, it’s my first it’s a three pillar framework. And I’m like you you can’t accomplish knowing where you’re going, setting those goals, figuring out college, any of these pieces until you really know yourself at a deep level and know your hardwired personality, your values, your aptitudes. Yeah. Well, brava


Dr. Ben Bernstein  04:51

to you, Lisa, because you nailed it. You know, there are two. The word education actually comes from two Latin roots. which I think is pertinent here. One is a do carry and enter chair eight, one means to train, and one means to draw forth. So we’ve done a really good job of training people in education, but not a good job at all really about drawing forth. And that’s what you’re asking of, of your students are the clients, the people that come to you, which is drawing forth, who are you? What makes you different, what makes you unique. And I can imagine that this is a pretty challenging task for not only your students, but also for their parents and for you, because the kids don’t have generally that kind of experience. So good, good for you, and great for the kids that you’re doing this, but


Lisa Marker Robbins  05:43

they’re not getting that support anywhere else. I mean, I think that’s a great point that you made, like, we are training them. That’s right academically, and all the things but we’re not going that deeper level. And honestly, yes, we need to learn all those academic pieces and our education, it’s necessary, and you need to have the right academic skills and aptitudes as you navigate in your career. However, I thinking back to a study, and I can’t even cite it exactly, but it was about performance among high level CEOs. And that what they found was the best predictor of their success was not where they went to school, not their socioeconomic background, any of that it was their self awareness.


Dr. Ben Bernstein  06:29

Yeah, absolutely. So I’m just into the biography of Steve Jobs. And it’s a wonderful story, because by the fourth grade, he was having a lot of trouble in school, he couldn’t really deal with it. But then he got a teacher in the fourth grade, who tuned into him, and gave him issues and promises. So she bribed him with a little money at first, but he got into it. And she was really locking into who he was, and what he needed. And he credited her in the biography as one of the most influential people in his life.


Lisa Marker Robbins  07:03

Okay, to get that one. It’s really like what I say in Gosh, that’s a fourth grade. It’s looking for alignment, right? That’s nice. Yep. Shrinking alignment. So these teams are struggling with that you had a good, you know, good reason why, why they should struggle. I mean, I love first of all, that we’re normalizing the struggle, it’s okay to have the struggle. Sure. And what it’s rooted in. But you, I heard you talk when we were both presenting at a conference recently in Dallas, and you talked a lot about what you call the zone and you say your goal. And I’m totally adopting this with my students. So I want you to share, what does it mean to be in the zone and what is on the other sides of the zone where we want to be?


Dr. Ben Bernstein  07:52

Okay, so thank you this great question. Now, the zone the term the zone is generally adopted from sports and from athletes, you will often hear athletes speak about after their particularly successful game or swim meet or tennis match, where they’ll say, Wow, man, I got in the zone. And it sounds magical mystical, one of my teachers called it Misty moisty. But actually, it’s not. So let me explain what it is and how I use it and how obviously you are wanting to use or are using it. It comes from understanding the scientific relationship between stress and performance over 100 years ago, two psychologists studied how stress affects performance. And what they found is it’s a bell curve. So it’s like too much stress, performance goes down too little stress performance goes down. But then there’s that bit right in the middle, where you have just the right amount of stress. And that’s where you perform at your best. And that’s what the zone is, where you’re not stressed out and you’re not flaked out, you are just in the right spot to perform at your very best.


Lisa Marker Robbins  09:09

I know what’s great about that, I want to just interrupt for a second because what people we talked so much about how teens are struggling with anxiety and stress and all of this and, you know, everybody, when we have that narrative going on there, oh, we got to help them overcome their stress. Yeah. And what I want to, like send our end on for a second is when we actually need some amount of stress to perform at our best. Some amount of stress is actually Are you saying it’s actually good?


Dr. Ben Bernstein  09:40

Oh, sure, it’s necessary. But I want to back up a little bit here, which is, let’s get clear what I mean by stress and what conventionally think of as stress. When I ask people, you know, as you mentioned, I speak all over the world. And I ask audiences what is stress and people say things like, Well, it’s my kids or if it’s seniors, it’s my My parents are it’s my sister, it’s Texas, it’s this is COVID. And they’re pointing the finger that stress is being caused by this or that. Those things that’s life.


Lisa Marker Robbins  10:11

Like, yes, let’s normalize that, right? Life’s good.


Dr. Ben Bernstein  10:14

Yeah, life is life is happening, life is filled, filled with challenges, big challenges, and little challenges, you know, in our family. Well, right now, my wife’s mom who lives on the other side of the globe, just went to the hospital last night. You know, we have financial reversals, untimely deaths, we have one child on the autistic spectrum, everybody’s life is filled with challenging situations, don’t blame your stress on those situations, those situations are not going to go away, because you want them to go away. That’s life. The deal is what you experience, the stress is how you’re reacting to those situations, which generally is I don’t want this to happen. I don’t like this, I want it to be this way I want it to be as if you could control life. Well, bottom line, we don’t control the life much better that we learn. And this is the basis of my work, we learn to accept what life gives us accept doesn’t mean like or love, it just means accept. But do that in a calm and confident and focused way calm, confident and focus. When you approach life’s challenges, whether it’s an AC T, an essay, T A college interview, you know, somebody’s getting horribly ill, and you can approach it in a calm and confident and focus way, you’re not struggling with it, you’re not wishing it were different, you are just dealing with it as it is. But that being calm and confident and focus, take some degree of learning and practice so that you know, when you’re feeling stressed, what tools you need to use to get yourself into that place, which is the zone.


Lisa Marker Robbins  12:00

I love that, you know, where my brain went was the performance piece of this stage of life is, can I do well, on those really important college entrance exams? Sure, can I write a great essay do well in the college interview, and we can’t change how college admissions work. So we have to work within that. Sure. And then it’s even, you know, girls being mean, the other girls in high school, there are other things are navigating. And while that maybe isn’t rooted in the performance piece, what you’re teaching us about, okay, these things are going to happen, girls are going to be mean to other girls in high school, it was like that when I was in high school, you know, 40 years ago,


Dr. Ben Bernstein  12:47

and let me break and boys are gonna bully, let’s equalize that, yes,


Lisa Marker Robbins  12:51

and boys are gonna bully. And you’re gonna have the teacher that seems to pick on you or doesn’t like you or gives too much homework. And so what I love about this is yes, while we can help students perform better on these things, where stakes are kind of high, right? We can also as as parents, and those working with teens and supporting them, help them write out the stuff, what they are calling the stress, but really, as you’re normalizing, it’s just the things of life, and the things are going to be different when you’re 2030s 40s 50s 60s and beyond, but they’re still going to happen. So we can we can apply your strategies to navigating normal high school stuff. Yeah. And help us also elevate performance, where the stakes are high. Yeah,


Dr. Ben Bernstein  13:41

that’s a great point. Because when people come to me, I mean, if a parent, or parents bring a kid who’s underperforming, say on the LSAT or the AC T, and wants to get a higher score, so I will tell them in the very first session, look, I want you to get the score that you could get or deserve. Let’s give the caveat. If you really prepare properly, not by magic, it’s not waving. But I want you to get that score. But the reason I’m doing this work is to give you the tools that actually I think you should have started to get in the second grade, that are going to stand you for a lifetime because these tools will never go out of fashion or out of need. And I’ve had people come back to me, I’ve been doing this for 40 years now. I’ve had people come back to me 20 years later and say Dr. B, what you did with me what we did together. I’m using now as a CEO of a startup, right about being calm and confident and focus. These are life skills. And thank you that’s that’s a great way to put it life skills. Perfect. So,


Lisa Marker Robbins  14:45

okay, so we’ve kind of defined this zone and what exists so there’s too little stress, too much stress, right? Give us tips as whether my listener, you know, works in a high school and they’re like, Yeah, we are training but We’re not working on the deeper stuff, right? Whether it’s a parent, what does what does it mean? what are maybe some signs that our kids have too much or too little? And then how do we help them get into the zone? Well,


Dr. Ben Bernstein  15:13

this great question, and it’s a big question. It’s a question. That’s a big answer. And I’ve written four books about this, but I will I want to shrink it right now.


Lisa Marker Robbins  15:24

We’re gonna link to all of your things. And


Dr. Ben Bernstein  15:28

that wasn’t a pitch for my books, I just want to really bring it. Let’s go back to calm confident focus. If you’re if you’re a parent, and you’re seeing that your teen is particularly jumpy or nervous, or, you know, having headaches or stomach aches, or wanting to miss school, you really have to look at the tools for calming down which have to do with breathing and staying grounded and being open. Now, it’s very difficult to tell the team who’s all worked up, breathe, however, you can be sure that they’re, they’re dysregulated in their body. So you want to look for those signs. And you can help your team by just saying, Listen, I know that you’re all worked up, you really have to appreciate what they’re in at the moment, I see that you’re all worked out. And you know, I don’t want you and I’m sure you don’t want to have the stomach ache or this headache with let’s, let’s give you some some ways of calming down. So that’s the first dance calm confident, is when a person teen in this case, doesn’t doesn’t. He’s feeding themselves negative senses, I can’t handle this, I can’t do it. I don’t know what to do. Here a parent the way that’s that’s the clue about a confidence issue, the way a parent can handle that as you know your child better than anyone you have seen them in different challenging situations, the best way of handling that is not to say, Oh, you’re the best, you’re the best kid, you know, that doesn’t work, the best thing to do is to reflect on something that the child your child has actually done in the past, I seen you win a very challenging situation and name it. And I know that you can handle things. And this is a little different, I get that. But I’ve seen you do that. As far as the last piece about being focused. Focus has to do with having a goal and taking actions that gets you to the goal. So it means that you know where you’re going, and you keep going there instead of getting distracted. This is a real tricky one for everybody. Because we live in a culture of distraction. So one thing is to really help your teen to find her or his goals. What’s your goal, and a goal doesn’t have to be for the rest of your life. It could be like for the next hour, what’s your goal? What do you need to do to get there? In fact, the smaller goals working from them to the larger goals is usually a good way to go. Because you can see that you have you’re having an effect, what’s the goal for this hour? Okay, you’re going to cover this chapter, great. How What steps are you going to take, and then defining those, once the goal is clear, and you take the steps, you get focused, everything starts to calm down. So those that’s what I would suggest, you know, in terms of being aware of certain signs, but also what you can do all of this, this may sound like a pitch, all of this is very well spelled out in my book Crusher, test anxiety, there is another one, which is a teens Guide to Success, which is written more specifically for teenagers. But you know, the other thing I would say, away from the pitch aspect is use your common sense, right? You’ve been through as a parent, you’ve been through many challenges in your lifetime. And this is another one that you’re having with your team. Now. You have to learn how to be calm and confident and focus if you really want to help your team.


Lisa Marker Robbins  18:35

For sure. I mean, it’s when I was doing the intro to this, I thought, and we as adults with kids and all my kids are adults now. We need this to because we’re navigating tough stuff. Right along with them. Absolutely. Sure. Sure. Definitely. So that what you just described feels a lot like the kids who are experiencing they’re outside of the zone because they’ve got too much stress and anxiety going on. That’s right. Can we talk about the other side? When there’s too little stress? I mean, it could that kid actually appear to a parent or a teacher like oh, all as well in their world? And they’re really, they need a little stress? Or what are some signs that kids are on the to little stress?


Dr. Ben Bernstein  19:18

Well, this is a good question. Because it’s, it’s this is it’s a little tricky here. I’ve had over the years, many students who, you know, I’m not stressed out and they’re, you know, they kind of come your flow. I’m just gonna, you know, I’m okay. And what I have seen is that sometimes that’s accurate, and there and so what that means, in that sense, if it’s accurate, they’re not getting enough challenge and school for some kids is not challenging enough, you know, is some often geared toward a middle strand. And for some it just isn’t that’s was the Steve Jobs story. I mean, the first three grades, it just was like, What is this? And he and his friend, were inventing print Thanks to make it work they, they published, they put up signs of Bring, bring your pet to school day. And all the kids brought their pets to school and it was a madhouse, right. So the point is, is that for some students, school is not challenging enough. So it needs to be. So that’s one. But the other thing that I found in my work is sometimes when students say, you know, I’m not stressed, what they what’s happened is they really are so stressed that they flipped to the other side, I don’t care. Right, I just, basically, I don’t want to deal, you know, and that that’s, that’s a more difficult situation to be in, because they’re already so stressed out that they’ve gone to the site, and then they can get into denial about the stress because they just can’t handle it. But then I would say that they just need some real understanding, compassion and tools to deal with the stress.


Lisa Marker Robbins  20:52

I think I frequently when, when a parent saying to me, Hey, we want to do I’m interested in getting my teen into your college major and career coaching course. So they find the right college, college major and career, they’ll say, but my team seems really just interested in shut down. And every time I try to talk about it, they just won’t have anything. And so they’re just not motivated. And I often, and I want I want you to tell me from your expertise, as a psychologist, if this falls into the it, actually they flipped to that other side that you just described, like they were so stressed about it. And what I often coach them on is they’re actually just overwhelmed. They’re not disinterested, they’re not trying to shut you out or be jerky or you know, anything negative. They’re just self protective. So they pulled into themselves, to protect themselves. And you said a good thing, not only do we need to like lead with empathy, Ned Johnson, who was on the podcast in the past, and he talked about that, just like, first of all, we have to acknowledge their feelings, whether we think that those feelings are justified or not, like just acknowledge and support and let them know they’re being heard. And then what you just also added, I think, to what Ned and I’ve talked about before, and I’ll link to that podcast episode in the show notes, is you said tools, and what I often say to families is, teenagers can only think so many steps ahead. And we’re working on big projects. That, you know, you said goals like what’s your goal in the next hour. And they’re faced with we have goals that are out there for semesters years away. And there’s the system is set up that way we have to work within the system. And what I’ve seen happen is often when students have a step by step, and this goes with what you just said, like, What’s your goal for the next hour or a week, but a step by step framework to anything that we’re doing. And then in my case, it’s like, well, they’re not interested in thinking about their major in their college, while let’s give them a step by step framework, know yourself first, then start thinking about careers, that helps them suddenly become interested and motivated, because they can see a clear path to getting there. Yeah. And really, like we could do that with anything. Right. Any goal. Any. And that, to me is the tools.


Dr. Ben Bernstein  23:27

What I think you’re really talking about what we’re really talking about is agency is is having a sense of one’s own agency. Yes. It’s not something that we really foster, in our educational training. And most parents haven’t had that either a guide to that later in life agency, meaning I act I choose, I follow something some inner directive. So I think kids, teenagers, most people get in your to just being told what to do. And then when it comes to making choices, they’re a little bit in left field, which is that Wait, wait, now I have to make a choice like, and I think just treating that very tenderly. The other thing I would say to parents, you love your children, you want the best for them, you absolutely you know who they are, or you, you think you know who they are, there may be other aspects of them that you don’t quite know yet. But you have to you have to also understand that this is obviously a separate person, they may be growing into a person different than the one you would like them to be or you imagine that they would be and being able to just take a few steps back and look at who they are. And as a parent, a loving parent, provide them with what they need. And that is tricky for some parents because for all kinds of reasons and I’m not faulting parents or parents. You want the best for your child, but it’s sometimes what you think is the best Last, but not necessarily the best for them. So it gets to a tricky stage of like when you have to make some of these choices, and take these tests and do all of these things, you know, whose goal is it? You may remember the conference, I brought up the situation of parents who brought their teenager in, who had miserable SATs scores very high performing every other way. And I asked her, I said, Do you know why you’re here today, and she says, I’m here because my mother wants me to get higher LSAT scores. without going through the whole story, it took a while for her to or me to work with her to bring her to the point of, it’s not her mother that wants her to get higher LSAT scores, if she wants to get into the college of her choice, and she knew what that was. And she knew what the LSAT scores were for that college, it’s her goal. So you’re bringing up a very important deep point, that unless the goal is your goal is going to you’re going to be fighting it. And if it’s if it’s your teen, unless it’s their goal, you’re going to just be in a struggle. So self definition agency, this is really


Lisa Marker Robbins  26:04

critical. Oh, that’s perfect. Unfortunately, we’re out of time. And I could I could keep you sounds like we just started. Well, you know what that means? It means Dr. B, that we’ve got to have you back on another time.


Dr. Ben Bernstein  26:19

I love it, I think what you’re doing is so important to that self definition about support about shepherding people through it by a phase in their life, where they really do need support, because they haven’t gotten it in the same way. So I applaud what you’re doing. I think it’s very, very important. And the parents who connect with you are really doing their child and themselves a service should be part of your program. Well, thank


Lisa Marker Robbins  26:48

you, Dr. B, I appreciate it. And kudos to you as well, I think we’re very aligned or working differently. You know, how we’re working with people, a teen supporting them and their parents was a little different. And the outcomes we’re seeking are a little different. But I think the tools, the mindset, and the way we’re thinking about it is very much aligned. So we will absolutely you have resources that can help our families from online courses to books. So we’re going to link to all of that in the show notes. So you all can get more support from Dr. B. Thank you so much, Lisa. It’s


Dr. Ben Bernstein  27:26

total pleasure and I look forward to coming back. I can’t wait.


Lisa Marker Robbins  27:35

Such important messages for all of us teens and parents as well as those who work supporting teens. There are so many takeaways from this episode. Paramount is life. Well, it’s just going to happen. And that doesn’t equate to stress. My weekly challenge doesn’t involve the teen in your life this week. But it’s that it’s for you, the adult takes up time to work on how you can respond to and support your team in navigating stress. Don’t just think about it, but write it out in a journal or on paper. How can you normalize the roller coaster of life for your team so they’re prepared? How will you respond in a way that validates and also provides agency? And how will you help your team get in the zone? If today’s episode was helpful to you, please share it with a friend who needs us to sharing following the podcast rating and reviewing helps us resource more students to launch into a successful future. Thank you for listening to the College and Career Clarity podcast, where I help your family move from overwhelmed, confused, to motivated, clear and confident about your teens future