How to Manage Nerves and Deliver a Higher Performance

June 4, 2022
1 min 30 secs
Ben Willmott

Imagine you’re about to give a big presentation, walk into an interview, or speak in front of a large group of people.

Your heart will beat a little faster, your palms are sweaty, you’re thinking about how it will go, what if you make a mistake, will you perform or miss the chance to do so?

What should you tell yourself? Should you try to calm down or be excited?

Alison Brooks, a researcher at Harvard Business School, asked this question to hundreds of people, and the response was nearly unanimous: 91% said they thought the best advice was to try and calm down.

Surprisingly, this was not what her research shows.

Alison gave hundreds of people a stressful test to perform, having to do an impromptu speech in front of a large group. She instructed half of the group to say to themselves, “I am calm” The other half were instructed to say, “I am excited.”

The result, the “I am excited” group, way outperformed the “I am calm group.”

Why is that?

It’s because anxiety is what scientists call a high arousal state, and being calm is a low arousal state. It’s almost impossible to go from a high arousal state to a low one; it’s like cruising at 80mph and slamming on the breaks. It’s not a good idea.

What you need to do is channel that fear and energy and reframe it as excitement, so channelling it into a positive, constructive direction, and effectively, pressing go on the accelerator rather than stop.

And “I am excited” is an incredible way to make that happen.

The Bottom Line

So, what do you say when you’re feeling your heart race before a big event and your nerves are building?

Just say, “I am excited.”

Try it out at your next big event and see how you feel.

Ben Willmott
Ben is Delivery Director at the London based creative agency Wunderman Thompson where he creates bespoke ways or working for his clients and teams. Ben is also the founder of The PPM Academy specializing in coaching Project Management, Agile Delivery and how to be more productive at home and work.

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