Keep Calm and Carry On. Get Excited and Move Ahead.
Feeling nervous before a big presentation, a final exam, or a confrontation with a dreaded rival? Whatever situation gives you the jitters, your nerves could be working against you, making you even more likely to trip up. While moderate levels of anxiety are naturally beneficial (increasing your stamina or performance), too much can decrease your self-confidence and reduce your memory capacity. It can also prompt you to rely more heavily on others, even if they offer bad advice. It’s no wonder we dread the feeling.
But it doesn’t have to be that way, says Professor Alison Wood Brooks of Harvard Business School. It’s all a matter of perspective. Instead of trying to calm yourself down, she suggests reframing your anxiety as excitement. Through four studies in which subjects were placed in high-stress situations, she found that their ability to perform tasks increased when they prompted themselves to get excited. The next time you’re in the spotlight and your palms get sweaty, try saying out loud, “I am excited!” And just like that, your performance will improve.
How does this work? When you’re in a stressful situation, your body kicks into “high-arousal mode,” often characterized by increased heart rate, blood pressure, and body temperature. Once in this state, attempting to calm yourself down can feel difficult and inauthentic, and can simply lead to more anxiety. Why not swap out your negative, high-arousal emotions with positive ones? Studies demonstrate that reappraising emotions works better than suppressing them. And, as it turns out, anxiety and excitement are physiologically correlated, meaning they can be substituted with minimal effort.
In addition to improving performance, turning stress into excitement has the added benefit of reframing issues as opportunities rather than threats. By viewing challenges through this more optimistic lens, you’ll become increasingly aware of the positive outcomes you can achieve. A simple trick toward success – now that’s something to get excited about!