Leadership Solutions from Read Solutions Group: Performance Anxiety or Energy?

Thursday, November 16, 2006

Performance Anxiety or Energy?

Remember the last time you had to perform? It could have been a presentation, a concert, a confrontation with a boss, or even a date. Picture yourself just before the event. Can you feel the tension in your muscles, the butterflies in your stomach, just thinking about the event?

Now think about a time you performed at your best. Notice how you feel just thinking about it. Do you feel still feel the tension? Is there energy rather than anxiety along with the tension?

In his book, “Overachievement: The New Science of Working Less to Accomplish More”, John Eliot, Ph.D. argues that top performers understand that they perform best under pressure. They have learned how to accept and harness the tension to enable peak performance. Rather than seeking to relax, they use the natural physical reaction before a performance to increase their focus and move into the process of performance.

Try this before your next performance.

1. Practice, practice, practice. During your training time, learn, improve, and embed your performance in your mind and muscles. Repeating the same performance over and over, whether a golf swing or a speech, will build the connections in your brain and muscles that you can rely upon.

2. Look back to a performance where you were at your best. What was happening around you? What were you doing? People often notice that immediately before the performance, they were doing something unrelated. Perhaps it was dealing with another issue, listening to music, eating, or loosening up. Those actions or distractions kept them from focusing on what might happen and entering into a state of anxiety. Decide then the elements of your past success and build them consistently and reliably into a new routine.

3. Develop a thought pattern that moves you into the present. Look at each swing, each breath, each sentence as a step toward your goal. Remove thoughts about the past or assumptions about the future.

4. As you move into performance mode, use the natural physical tension to enhance your focus. While your mouth is getting dry and your stomach is churning, recognize that your brain is operating at top speed and blood is being pumped to your muscles. These are not symptoms of anxiety; they are a signal that you are primed to perform.

5. Let your body and mind do what it is has been trained to do, enjoying each moment, achieving the best possible result with each breath, each swing, each sentence. Remain confident and committed to the performance and routine with each moment.

6. Later, and only later, evaluate what worked, what can be improved and adjust your training accordingly.

Before your next performance, think about how you can transform the natural stress to energy and deliver your best performance ever.

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