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We all get it. Usually, it shows up when we least need or want it. It is that strange feeling that comes over you that brings with it shaky knees, sweaty hands, and that churning feeling in your stomach. And it arrives on cue just before an important meeting or event. Performance anxiety is normally brought on by a feeling of being out of control. Therefore, most solutions to this problem lead to gaining a sense of control over the situation. Here are several successful strategies for knocking fear to the sidelines. Preparation Because feeling under-prepared leads to an inability to meet performance challenges, thorough preparation is an effective strategy for conquering or at least controlling anxiety. You can gain a feeling of being prepared comes by extensive planning, practicing essential skills, researching critical knowledge, and gaining experience in situations with lower risks. Confidence As has been found for athletes, self-confidence protects against debilitating performance anxiety. The advantage of developing high self- confidence is that it leads to feeling in control even as anxiety may increase during a performance. Confidence comes in believing that your skills and desire to do well will carry you through. It takes no talent at all to give something your very best, and if you have given something your very best effort you cannot ask any more of yourself. You’re human. Realize you will make mistakes, but so does everyone else. Confidence comes in knowing that even though there may be others with more experience, skill or knowledge, there is no one with more desire to do well in this situation than you. Physical Control It is often difficult to control external factors, such as equipment malfunctioning, people’s feelings or actions, the weather, but it is possible to exercise control over your physical comfort and reactions. The onset of anxiety usually leads to rapid, shallow breathing. This type of breathing zaps the body of necessary oxygen. Therefore, seizing control by taking long, slow, deep breaths will not only provided the needed oxygen for optimum performance, but also will reduce anxiety. Additionally, dressing comfortably and ‘for success’ will contribute to feeling that you are ready to give the situation your very best. Purge Negative Thoughts How often have you found yourself just minutes away from an important event–sales call, walking down the marriage isle, beginning an athletic event or the start of a medical procedure–and negative thoughts flood your brain. “What if I trip?” “What if I forget his name?” Thinking of negative events and outcomes not only increases anxiety, it also leads to the likelihood that those negative events might just happen. An effective anxiety reducing strategy is to purge those thoughts with self-talk. As they begin to appear, recognize them as negative, and force yourself to talk to yourself about something positive. Describe yourself being successful, recall a similar situation in which you were successful, or if that is challenging, talk to yourself about something that brings you happiness–a hobby or a loved one–anything that gets those negative thoughts out of your head and makes you relax a bit. Self-talk is more active than just thinking positive thoughts, and therefore it is more powerful in conquering anxiety. Warm Up Every and any performance can be improved with a warm-up. Warm-up is not practice to improve performance, but rather an opportunity to engage the skills and knowledge necessary so that when the actual performance begins those skills are ready to provide service. Musicians, actors, and athletes all warm up before a performance, and so can anyone else. If your ‘performance’ requires you to speak, as in a job interview or sales call, warm-up by talking as if you were meeting your clients or potential employers. A good warm-up goes a long way in making you feel ready and in control! You may not be able to purge performance anxiety entirely, but using one or more of these strategies will help you gain the control needed to usher along your success.
About the Author – Paul G. Schempp
Dr. Schempp, president of Performance Matters, Inc., is a professional speaker, coach and consultant. Paul has more than 25 years of experience in the fields of research, teaching and professional development. Individuals and organizations in business, education and sport have elevated their expertise and achieved exceptional performance by working with Dr. Schempp.
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