More Cowbell: Tips for not Being Pressure-Cooked

Can you relate to one or more of these potential stressors:

  • Too much work – and too little time and resources.
  • Unemployment.  Or the risk of losing your job.
  • Conflict with your boss.  (Or with a team member.  Or client.  Or friend.  Or family member.)
  • Big change.  Uncertainty about the future.
  • Financial strain.  Health issues.

If yes, then chances are good that you are human.

And part of being human is living with stress.  There’s nothing wrong with a little stress; it can push us to perform better.  But too much stress for too long is counter-productive and unhealthy.  Research also shows that being a leader likely raises your stress …

  • 88% of leaders report that work is a primary source of stress and that having a leadership role increased their stress level.
  • Two-thirds of executive leaders feel their stress is higher today than 5 years ago.
  • Nearly 80% of leaders said they would benefit from help.

(See The Stress of Leadership, by the Center for Creative Leadership, 2007.)

You can’t eliminate pressure, but you can keep it from cooking you.  You can grow in your resiliency.  Here’s one way:

More Cowbell.

Remember that old Saturday Night Live sketch where Will Farrell plays the cowbell?

He plays a member of the rock band, Blue Oyster Cult, and they’re recording “Don’t Fear the Reaper” in the studio.  Christopher Walken plays the band’s producer and keeps telling them that the song needs “more cowbell.”  Farrell’s enthusiasm, energy and serious goofiness while playing the cowbell are hilarious.

So here’s a question for you – especially if you’re under excessive pressure:  do you need more cowbell?

Think of “cowbell” as something that brings you energy and enthusiasm, something that recharges or relaxes you and relieves stress.  We all need some cowbell in our lives – and even more so when we’re under extra stress.  Ironically, when we’re stressed, we tend to neglect the very practices and people that will help lighten the pressure.

A friend of mine mentioned the Cowbell sketch the other day.  Just watching it was a “more cowbell” moment for me.  I need people and things around me that help me lighten up, laugh and enjoy myself – especially when I’m stressed out.

Explore the space.

Walken tells Farrell to “explore the space” with the cowbell.  It has taken some exploring and experimenting for me to realize what energizes me.

Examples of “more cowbell” for me include:

  • Hanging around fun and encouraging people. Getting a good night sleep.
  • Helping someone else in a meaningful way.  Asking for help myself.
  • Playing my favorite sports.  Going for a run in a scenic area.
  • Taking a real lunch break.  Taking a real vacation.
  • Watching a good movie.  Singing a song.
  • Reflecting on a great quote.  Praying.

What’s “more cowbell” look like for you?

I got a fever, and the only prescription is more cowbell.  

That’s what Christopher Walken told Farrell and his band.  If you’re finding yourself under the weather from stress, maybe you need more cowbell.

(Click for the SNL More Cowbell video.)

Joe Baker is a Partner with PeopleResults.  Contact Joe at or on Twitter @JoeBakerJr.  Sign up to receive his and his colleagues’ blog at Current.