One of the best tools I’ve found to help students understand their behavior and performance is the Environmental Press.
Look at this chart, I’d tell students. If you’re stressed about school or something at home, you’re at the top, at hard press. On the top rung, it’s hard to think. Your brain tightens up. Your feelings hijack your thoughts. At the high press, it’s easy to mess up with your school work and with your behavior.
If you are bored, you’re at the easy press on the bottom. It’s hard to do well at the bottom, too. With nothing to do, you can get lazy or into trouble.
Then I’d tell students about my maximum comfort time—Friday evening on the couch with a week end between me and Monday morning. This rung feels good, I’d say, and you should be there sometimes. But it’s not where you do your best work.
You work best on the second rung from the top. On the second rung, you have just enough adrenaline to stimulate your brain. There you feel alert and enthused, like just before a basketball game you’re hoping to win.
Students usually placed themselves on the chart with amazing accuracy. The Environment Press gave them a way to talk about where they were, where they wanted to be, and how to get there.