When anxiety helps performance


It may be better to tell yourself to get excited rather than calm down if you suffer from performance anxiety. Just saying the words “I am excited” out loud improved performance and enjoyment of the performance according to a new study.

Singing, public speaking, and math

Three experiments measured the effects of anxiety on stressful activities. One hundred thirteen students performed karaoke. One hundred forty were given two minutes to prepare a persuasive speech. Finally, 188 students were asked to perform math equations under time pressure.

Surprise stress with public speaking

Pressure was turned up on the public speaking assignment by telling the students they would be videotaped and judged by a committee. Before giving the speech participants were instructed to say “I am excited” or “I am calm”. People who said “excited” gave longer, more persuasive speeches, were more competent and relaxed as judged by an independent panel.

Give your stress another name

Dr. Alison Wood Brooks, PhD, Harvard Business School, said that fear of performance is a “state of arousal” that is closer to the state of excitement than to the state of being calm. “Since both anxiety and excitement are emotional states characterized by high arousal, it may be easier to view anxiety as excitement rather than trying to calm down to combat performance anxiety,” she said. “The way we talk about our feelings has a strong influence on how we actually feel.”

Focus on opportunities and not fears

“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,” Brooks concluded.

Source: Journal of Experimental Psychology: General


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