Managing Performance Anxiety: Getting Excited Can Help


If you need to manage performance anxiety, Harvard research suggests that coaching yourself to get excited will help.

Our natural tendency is to calm ourselves down when anxious. It makes intuitive sense that we will perform better if anxiety is reduced, but accomplishing calm by trying to relax is difficult and usually ineffective. Getting excited may be more helpful because it refocuses our thoughts.

"When people feel anxious and try to calm down, they are thinking about all the things that could go badly. When they are excited, they are thinking about how things could go well," reports researcher Alison Wood Brooks, PhD, Harvard Business School.

Anxiety vs Excitement

Anxiety and excitement are each high arousal feeling states. The physical sensations of both emotions are similar, but anxiety makes us fearful of moving forward while excitement propels us forward.

Although it may seem quite a leap for an individual to switch from anxiety to excitement, the Harvard studies suggest it can be accomplished by a person stating that he or she is excited. “The way we talk about our feelings has a strong influence on how we actually feel,” says Brooks.

Three Magic Words: "I Am Excited"

In one of the Harvard experiments, 140 participants prepared and gave a persuasive speech about why they would be good co-workers. The researchers videotaped each orator and told them that the recordings were going to be judged. Before giving their talk, each was told to say either “I am excited” or “I am calm.” Those participants who declared excitement were more persuasive, relaxed, and competent speakers, and gave longer talks, than those who stated they were calm.

Another study had 113 people participating in karaoke game. Before performing a song, each person was asked to say they were anxious, excited, calm, sad, or angry. As the participants crooned, monitors recorded their heart rate and a finger pulse to measure anxiety levels. Those singers who scored highest in rhythm, pitch, and volume—with an average of 80 percent—were those who started by saying, “I am excited.” The singers who said they were anxious scored an average of 53 percent. The sad, calm, and angry participants had an average score of 69.

Words Are Powerful

When you feel anxious, you’re ruminating too much and focusing on potential threats. In those circumstances, people should try to focus on the potential opportunities. It really does pay to be positive, and people should say they are excited. Even if they don’t believe it at first, saying “I’m excited” out loud increases authentic feelings of excitement. ~ Alison Brooks

Source: Science Daily


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