Have you ever felt nervous prior to a big event? Perhaps your heart is racing or your temperature is rising prior to an athletic competition, public speaking engagement, high-stakes meeting, or sales pitch. Your instinct is probably to tell yourself to “relax” or “calm down.” Yet oftentimes this conventional wisdom is wrong.
The latest research shows that instead of trying to force yourself to calm down, reappraising anxiety as excitement can improve performance. You can reappraise anxiety by telling yourself something as simple as, “I am excited,” or, “The heightened sensations I am feeling represent my body and mind getting ready to execute.”
This works because when you tell yourself, “I need to relax,” you are sending a signal that something is wrong and that you are stressed; in a sense, you are reinforcing the negative emotion. But by telling yourself the sensations you are feeling are the body engaging all the systems it needs for the task at hand, you transform negative energy into positive energy and improved performance follows. In other words, the physiological sensations we associate with anxiety are actually neutral. They can be positive or negative, and that all depends on how we view them.
In researching and reporting Peak Performance we learned that many of the best performers across various fields use this technique. It's not that they don't feel nerves or sometimes even fear. It's that they channel these sensations and heightened perception towards the task at hand rather than trying to block them out. We (i.e., Brad and Steve) used this strategy frequently over the last month while launching our book. When we got jitters prior to big presentations, we didn't try to force them away. Instead, we just said "let's go!" It sounds too good to be true, but this little shift in mindset drastically changed how we felt and our subsequent performance on stage.
There are, of course, exceptions. If you are a golfer trying to sink a putt to win a major championship, you probably ought to have a go-to relaxation technique at the ready. But for the vast majority of pursuits, a little bit of excitement and arousal goes a long way.
MAKE IT REAL IN 30 SECONDS OR LESS
The next time you feel nerves starting to kick in before a big event, don’t try to fight them or force yourself to calm down.
Rather, tell yourself something along the lines of: “My body and mind are preparing to give it their all.” Or even simpler, “I am excited.
If you enjoyed this post and want to learn more and support our work, please consider buying our new book, Peak Performance: Elevate Your Game, Avoid Burnout, and Thrive with the New Science of Success. It's available Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and everywhere else books are sold.