Amy Wood Brooks works at the Harvard Business School and in 2014 she wrote a paper called “Get Excited: Reappraising Pre-Performance Anxiety as Excitement”. Not the sexiest title for a document but the content is pretty darn exciting. She was looking at handling nerves and so on – and doing so in a pretty hardcore scientific way. If you want, you can read the full paper in the Journal of Experimental Psychology but I’ll try and give you the bits you can use here.
Being nervous, AWB points out, is a high-energy state. It’s a negative high energy state, to be specific. (Negative in the sense that it’s a state of mind we’d rather not be in.) Most of the tools, trips and techniques that experts like me teach are all about calming down and moving to the ideal state of cool, calm and relaxed – basically feeling confident. But that, AWB points out is that this is a big ask (too big an ask) because it requires moving in two dimensions at once… if you’re nervous you need to move from the high energy state to the low energy state of being calm and you need to move from the negative (anxious, nervous and lacking confidence) to the positive state (looking forward to the presentation – or whatever the gig is).
For many people that’s too big an ask.
Her solution is beautifully simple. Instead of trying to do two moves, just do one. Try and move from a negative high energy state to a positive one. In other words, forget about trying to calm down and instead, shoot for a state of excitement. Being excited is a positive, high energy state.
How do you do this?
Again, it’s beautifully simple. You know all those supportive friends who ask how you’re feeling? And you remember how you tell them how nervous you’re feeling? Well don’t. Instead of saying “I’m nervous” or “I’m terrified!” try saying things like “I’m looking forward to it” or “I’m really excited“. Say it even if you don’t believe it. Lie if necessary! 😉 The downside is that you’ll lose a lot of the sympathy that you got from them, but on the upside you’re body will feed back on what your brain is telling it and (as if by magic) you’ll start to move from nervous to excited.
Excited is good – it’s a positive, high energy state.
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My experience is that while this works (hey, it’s based on good science!) it’s even more use if it’s then followed up by tools to either calm you down or, at least slow you down… otherwise you risk gabbling 😉