How can we overcome performance anxiety?

Performance anxiety can affect us in situations ranging from sports and entertainment to going on dates, job interviews, and more. Luckily, we can fix it!

In 2013, Dr. Alison Woods Brooks at Harvard Business School in 2013 decided to figure out what the best tactic for dealing with performance anxiety was.

Dr. Brooks had found that 84.95% of people she had surveyed tried to deal with anxiety or stress before a performance by trying to calm themselves down and be more relaxed.

She had also found that this didn’t work very well for them at all.

So, she decided to do a series of experiments to figure out what would work.

Excitement helps us be lest anxious.

Dr. Brooks had large groups of people perform activities such as public speaking, singing in front of an audience, and even math tests.

Some of these people were asked to continue with their strategy of trying to calm themselves down. And some were told to tell themselves that what they were feeling in their body was excitement.

Because you see, the physiological experience of excitement and nerves, stress, or anxiety is very similar.

These emotions all include an increased heart rate and adrenaline. And sometimes even things like a dry mouth, slight shaking, and similar.

At the end of her study, Dr. Brooks found that those who told themselves that they were excited when they were nervous, outperformed those who tried to calm themselves down significantly.

For the public speakers, for example, she asked the audience to rate the speakers on several key words. And the people in the excited group were rated as more persuasive, more competent, more confident, and more persistent than the other group.

And there’s no reason to believe the same wouldn’t be true for any other social skill.

Why does this work?

As we know, our emotions come from our thinking. But only the thinking that our subconscious mind actually believes.

And when our physiological experience is an elevated pulse and increased levels of adrenaline or cortisol (the stress hormone), trying to convince ourselves that we are calm and relaxed becomes an obvious lie. Because these things simply don’t happen when we are calm.

It will, however, be fairly easy for our mind to believe that we’re excited - since the physiological experience we’re having matches that feeling.

In fact, the only significant difference between nervousness and excitement seems to be what you believe you’re experiencing.

How to reduce your nerves or anxiety.

Whenever you feel nervous, anxious, stressed, or similar before doing anything where your skills, confidence, or persuasiveness comes into play – accept the experience.

Accept that your heart is – and will be – racing. That your arousal is high. That your mouth is dry (or whatever). And remind yourself that what you’re interpreting as nerves can just as easily become excitement since the physiological reactions are just about identical.

Tell yourself know that what you’re feeling is excitement for what you’re about to do. And for extra bonus points, find a couple of things in that activity that actually are exciting to you.

Being aware of things in the activity – or in the potential outcome from the activity – that you genuinely find exciting will make the words even easier for your subconscious mind to believe.

(Click here if you’d like to read Dr. Brooks’ research article.)

Hi, I'm TJ Guttormsen.

Since 2009 I’ve coached clients ranging from Olympic gold medalists and billionaires, to people who simply want more out life.

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