Complete hyperventilating freakouts? Yep, 100% totally natural.
Maybe your heart pounds and your palms sweat when you speak in public.
Or when you are about to ask for a promotion.
And especially when you have to sell something.
You are not alone. We all suffer from anxiety at times.
But here’s what I want you to know: you cannot just wait until the feeling passes. There’s real danger in putting off doing something while you’re waiting to become “more confident.”
Because it may never, ever happen.
People sometimes have the wrong idea about confidence. Confidence is not about an absence of fear. Confidence is feeling anxious, but pushing through and doing it anyway.
Anxiety, left unchecked, is an insidious emotion. Besides the physical effects, it has a negative impact on your abilities.
Harvard social psychology researcher Alison Wood Brooks found that “anxiety is a drain on cognitive resources, using up brain power and information-processing ability and reducing confidence.” [Harvard Magazine]
“Feeling anxious is very unpleasant,” she says, so people go to great lengths to avoid it. If they are involved in negotiations, for example, “they exit early, they make large concessions, they respond very quickly to counteroffers, and ultimately they perform poorly.”
Ouch. Instead of suffering the negative effects of unchecked anxiety, let’s look at how you can harness the emotion to actually perform better in stressful situations, like negotiations, speaking and sales.
I’ve got two steps to flip your fear-script and have you performing like a rock star.
Most people try to calm themselves by denying the anxiety they feel. Their inner dialogue sounds like this:
“Calm down. Calm down. Calm down. Stop sweating. Oh god, this is going to be a disaster! Wait a minute, calm down. Breathe slowly.”
Unfortunately, this doesn’t work. Your nervous system still knows that you feel anxious. Fighting your biology is just too hard.
Turn it around!
Instead of denying it, or trying to calm your nerves, channel them.
Rather than saying, “I’m so nervous” try saying, “I’m so excited.”
Before public speaking:
“I’m so excited that I get to speak to this group. It’s going to be fun.”
Before a sales conversation:
“I’m so excited that I get to talk to XYZ Company about using my training program.”
As a job seeker:
“I’m so excited about interviewing for this job.”
Gunning for a promotion:
“I’m so excited to talk to my boss about increasing my responsibilities and my salary.”
Shockingly easy, right?
The magic behind the method
This tiny little shift in what you say to yourself works miracles. Anxiety and excitement both have similar physical characteristics in the body – racing heartbeat, increased perspiration, and raised cortisol levels (the stress hormone.)
Your brain doesn’t believe you when you tell it to “calm down” because the physical effects are still there. But recasting those physical effects as excitement is effective because it works with the physical characteristics, rather than against them.
Best of all, shifting from feeling anxious to excitement focuses on a positive outlook, rather than negative.
Feeling anxious is related to worrying about things going wrong in the future. Excitement shifts the brain to anticipate opportunities and focus on things going right in the future.
And when you focus on positive future outcomes, you are more likely to achieve them. Fact.
Backed by science
Brooks, an assistant professor of business administration at Harvard Business School, studied how reframing nerves as excitement improved performance.
In an experiment involving people asked to sing before an audience, participants who said aloud, “I am excited” performed 55% better than those who repeated the phrase, “I am anxious.”
“Since anxiety and excitement are both arousal states, it’s easier to see apprehension as invigorating than to try to suppress it,” says Woods.
Anxiety is a part of life when it comes to being famous in your field, or striving to reach any worthy goal. Don’t fight it – make it work for you.
No, I don’t mean that you have to shout at yourself in the mirror to psych yourself up. But following your own recipe of rituals will help you to put your mind and body in high performance mode.
Athletes have elaborate rituals. Some hit 100 balls the day before a game.
Or eat chicken on game day. Or wear red shirts for luck.
Is it because they’re superstitious? For some, sure.
But it works.
“…research has shown that players who use a consistent set of behaviours are more successful (Lonsdale & Tam, 2008; Gayton, 1992; Jackson & Baker, 2011; Mack, 2001).
“A pre performance routine is defined as ‘sequence of task relevant thoughts and actions which an athletes engages in systematically prior to his or her performance of a specific sport skill.’ (Moran 1996).”
But for the rest of us, the ‘pregame’ routine is our deliberate process to calm our nerves, channel our anxiety into excitement and to create a mindset for success.
Your routine might involve saying certain phrases to yourself while swinging your arms back and forth.
Or doing 50 pushups, rehearsing your key points and praying.
Feel free to get creative with it.
My pre-public speaking ritual
Before I’m about to go on to a stage to speak, I run through my talk one last time, play a few songs that I love, repeat to myself how excited I am to be able to speak to this group and finish off with a little power posing.
This week, pick a challenge that’s got your nerves humming. (Maybe it’s something you’ve been putting off?)
Flip the script by repeatedly telling yourself, “I’m so excited.”
Put together a little pregame ritual to put your mind and energy into high performance mode.
Then, do that thing!
I’m all kinds of fired up about you.