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On a Scale of 1-10, How Distressed Do You Feel?

If you’ve ever received an email asking, “How likely are you to recommend our business?” chance are you’ve been part of a company’s net promoter score experiment. They’re measuring something simple: the 1-10 scale of how customers feel about their business.

There are two ways to interpret this practice:

a) It’s a powerful metric that allows a company to quickly assess customer sentiment over periods of time

b) It’s a dumb corporate thing the CEO learned about while skimming half a chapter of a book, before deciding that it’s something the company should do from now on

Maybe the truth lies somewhere in the middle? In any case, this post is about something much better and much more personalized than the net promoter score: subjective units of distress.

You can read more about it at the link (or read a more in-depth academic study), but here’s all you really need to know:

Throughout the day, ask yourself how distressed you feel on a scale of 1-10. 1 is completely at peace, 10 is world-on-fire. Record your answers. Then, over time, pay attention to how the ranking changes in response to different stimuli.

You could even just do it once a day, during a quick review in the evening. How distressed did I feel today? Don’t overthink the answer, just give it a number from 1-10 and move on.

Sometimes your source of distress is personal: a fight with your partner, an upcoming test or job interview. Or it could be more universal: a reckless war or global pandemic, for example.

These are fairly obvious sources of distress, where you don’t have to take a test to figure out why you’re troubled. Other times, however, the source of your anxiety is more subtle or complex. In these cases, tracking your subjective units of distress over time can give you quick, helpful data.

Like the net promoter score, the SUDS rating is simple in design and easy to answer. It’s built around the concept that “utility does not require precision”—estimates will work just fine. You don’t need a doctor to tell you that you’re feeling better when you’re a 7 than when you’re a 3.

So what’s the next step? Maybe nothing!

Over the past few weeks, I’ve been teaching the first cohort of my new Time Anxiety course. (We’ll be doing a second cohort later this fall.) One of the principles we’ve spent a lot of time on in the group is the practice of active noticing.

Sometimes, merely by noticing how you feel, your mind and body will begin making small shifts without you deciding anything at all. You know what you need—after all, you are the most important person in your world.

So before you try “fixing” anything, first practice the art of paying attention. Ask yourself now: on a scale of 1-10, how distressed do I feel? Make a quick note of it. Then ask again later in the day, or tomorrow, or whenever you change settings (like from work to home, or from an office to outdoors).

Remember, you don’t need to do anything other than record how distressed you feel under different circumstances. Try it!


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