Do your nerves trip you up when preparing to tackle an important challenge? For the past six months, I ‘ve been on a quest to find out all I can about reducing the effects of anxiety on performance. It’s been a time of high stakes opportunities for me and when I get overstressed, I’m not at my best.
Maybe you’ve experienced some of these symptoms: Inability to concentrate, shakiness, shallow breathing, fast heart rate. They’re all signs you’re in a fight, flight or freeze state. They’re totally adaptive in helping you survive a physical attack. However, when they’re experienced as performance anxiety, they can impede your ability to prepare for and meet an important challenge.
When I experience these symptoms, it’s hard to think clearly. I find myself becoming disconnected from other people. And I know it takes a toll mentally and physically. In short, anxiety gets in the way of being my best self.
There are several strategies I’ve discovered that can counter these kinds of nerves. Coherent breathing is one. In fact, there many breathing techniques that work directly on your nervous system and help your body settle down.
I recently discovered another technique that's been proven successful. It involves reframing the way you interpret your physical reactions from anxiety to excitement.
Here’s a summary of the article, written by Alison Wood Brooks of Harvard Business School:
Individuals often feel anxious in anticipation of tasks such as speaking in public or meeting with a boss. I find that an overwhelming majority of people believe trying to calm down is the best way to cope with pre-performance anxiety. However, across several studies involving karaoke singing, public speaking, and math performance, I investigate an alternative strategy: reappraising anxiety as excitement. Compared with those who attempt to calm down, individuals who reappraise their anxious arousal as excitement feel more excited and perform better. Individuals can reappraise anxiety as excitement using minimal strategies such as self-talk (e.g., saying “I am excited” out loud) or simple messages (e.g., “get excited”), which lead them to feel more excited, adopt an opportunity mind-set (as opposed to a threat mind-set), and improve their subsequent performance.
I ran across this article the afternoon I was doing the final prep for my first-ever webinar. I tried the strategy several ways. Every time I felt the beginning of pre-performance “butterflies,” I reminded myself that I was excited. I wrote, “I’m excited” on a post it note and stuck it on my computer. And, when I introduced myself to the webinar participants, I started off by saying, “I’m excited to be here with you today.” It worked! I managed to glide through the first couple of minutes (often the most challenging time) with little nervousness but lots of energy.
So, next time you are preparing for a big challenge, consider adding this strategy to your repertoire of pre-performance anxiety preventatives.