Overcome Your Fears—Fast!
Feeling nervous? Pump yourself up to calm yourself down, finds research from Harvard Business School.
Compared to people who attempted to settle their nerves and chill out before speaking in public, those who focused on channeling nervous energy into excitement were rated significantly more persuasive, competent, and confident by a panel of strangers. A follow-up experiment found the same technique increased scores an average of 22 percent on a timed, SAT-style math exam.
When you're nervous, your heart races, you begin to sweat, and your body starts dumping high-arousal hormones like cortisol into your system. The same process occurs when you're excited, explains study author Alison Wood Brooks, Ph.D. And because feelings of anxiousness and excitement are physiologically similar, it’s a lot easier to convert anxiety into amped-up enthusiasm than it is to calm yourself down, she adds. Even more: When you're anxious—and preoccupied with trying to relax—you're focusing on what's going wrong. When you're pumped up, you're betting on yourself to succeed, and thus become more likely to do so.
Do this: Step aside before your big presentation or exam and say out loud to yourself, “I am excited,” Brooks advises. It may sound silly, but the way we talk about our emotions has a dramatic impact on how we actually feel, Brooks says. Repeat this in your head, and if anyone asks you how you’re feeling, tell them you’re pumped up. Doing this inspires a profound mindset shift and increases your performance, research shows.
Also, dump your “Keep Calm and Carry On” poster. Tacking up a message like “Get excited and kick ass” in your office, car, or any other place you’ll see it often will help you convert anxiety into performance-improving zeal, Brooks says.