How to Turn Performance Anxiety into a Superpower

Anxiety to Excitement

If its possible, before I give a talk I try to go and sit in a bathroom.

Hopefully I’m alone as I start with a few deep breaths and then meditate for a few minutes.
With my mind clear, I open my eyes and say, “I’m excited.”

Because even though I did a short meditation, public speaking, whether it’s 5 people or 500 does create a little bit of anxiety. It’s a very vulnerable state.  We’re opening ourselves up for criticism, ridicule, and possible embarrassment.

This is why public speaking almost always tops the list for what we fear most. It even ranks higher than dying! I guess the consolation is you can’t hear the criticism if you’re dead.

Almost any public speaker will tell you even if they like doing it, they still experience some anxiety beforehand.

Because here’s what’s happening.

Your brain is screaming at you, begging you not to do it!

What if you forget what you want to say?

What if they don’t like your ideas?

What if they don’t laugh at your joke?

For your brain, this is a life-threatening situation – DON’T DO IT!!! it pleads.

And yet, your torn.

Because on the other hand, what if your idea is well received? Maybe you’ll make a difference in someone’s life by sharing your message, or get funding for a new project that’s going to help millions of people.

In that moment your head is spinning so fast you don’t know what’s up from down.

This is why telling yourself to calm down is the worst thing you can do. It just creates more anxiety and fear.

Instead turn it around.

Simply say, “I’m excited.”

Because the physiological difference between being excited and anxious is ZERO!

You FEEL exactly the same: sweaty palms, heart racing, butterflies in your stomach…

The only difference is your mind-set and that makes all the difference.

Can You Really Turn Anxiety Into Excitement?

Alison Brooks, a Professor at Harvard Business School devised a simple study to see if this was true.

She took 113 people, divided them into three groups and asked them to sing Journey’s “Don’t Stop Believing” into a karaoke video machine. They were all matched for pitch and familiarity with the song.

Before singing, one group was told to say, “I’m anxious,” another, “I’m excited,” and the last group weren’t given any instructions before being handed the mic.

The group that said, “I’m excited,” outperformed the other two groups, in terms of volume and pitch (as measured by the video machine).

In another experiment, participants had to give a short public talk. They were told to either say, “I am calm” or “I am excited” before the talk.

Three independent judges rated their performance, with the group saying, “I am excited” as the winner.

In another study two groups were asked to solve some math problems. One group was instructed to say, “I’m excited” before the task and the other “I am calm.”

Guess who performed best?

The group that said, “I’m excited.”

Getting your brain to flip on a dime from a high arousal state (anxiety) to a low arousal state (calm) is incredibly difficult and most people have not acquired the skills to do that.

Also depending on the task: public speaking, closing a big sale, being interviewed – you want to be a little aroused otherwise your audience is going to fall asleep! A little stress (and I am stressing the word “little” here) can be a very good thing.

Do you think Tony Robbins is calm or excited before he goes on stage? If you’ve ever seen him, you know he’s excited, he’s passionate and it’s contagious. Everyone in the audience is feeling it too.

And you want the passion for your message to shine through too.

Get Creative With This Anxiety Changing Brain-Hack

Going to the DMV for a driver’s test… “I’m excited to be taking this test, so I can get my driver’s license!”

Facing a difficult conversation… “I’m excited to have this conversation and get this disagreement resolved.”

Heading to a party where you don’t know anyone… “I’m excited to see who I might meet.” This is a particularly good one for those of us that are ambiverts and introverts – instead of dreading it (which is what we normally do) get yourself excited – you might just have a good time!

It’s such an easy thing to do and it can CHANGE everything!

When you’re anxious or nervous about an upcoming event it makes you small, tentative and afraid – you start looking for ways to back out and that may not be in your best interest.

But when you’re excited, you’re pumped up, you feel energetic and you start looking forward to it!

Try this out for yourself and see if you can turn your performance anxiety into a superpower. Oh and by the way, I’m really excited you read this post! 😀



10 Responses

    1. I don’t think we want you to be excited either right now. So no public speaking until you are fully recovered! Jerry sent me an update today and I was happy to hear you are mending well! I’ll be out there in about 6 weeks – so I will come and visit!

  1. It makes sense. I work in an environment where I have to be excited! But it can be also very stressful, being in charge! Not only I have to be excited but I have the turn my anxious clients into excited “looking forward to” what is coming! I’m a raft guide
    In the summer and we challenge big rapids, that is exciting but like I say stressful! We are all in the same boat so let’s be excited about it! Let have fun and tackle the river! Challenging ourselves and getting out of our comfort zone, and succeeding at the task, that is rewarding! The
    River can
    Be a metaphor for everyday challenges, let’s be excited about it!

    1. Your river metaphor is a wonderful example of life and that we should be excited about it. We never know what’s around the corner – sometimes it’s an obstacle sometimes it’s a rush – we just never know and that’s exciting!

  2. “Because the physiological difference between being excited and anxious is ZERO!”

    This is huge! It’s funny how often we miss the idea that the only thing causing us to suffer in an emotional reaction is our thoughts about the emotional reaction. It reminds me of one of my favorites quotes – Resistance to the disturbance is the disturbance. (Vernon Howard)

    Thanks for sharing this reframing, super helpful!

    1. Thanks James! It is all about our thoughts and how we are relating to what’s happening. I love that Vernon Howard quote – I’m going to use it – thank you!

  3. That is a wonderful quote James, loved the message Meredith, I will keep reminding myself of it when anxiety strikes during the house building mammoth task. Not quite in the same league as rafting rapids but still creates a level of anxiety that I shall now think of as “excitment” .

    1. You are definitely going to have many exciting moments ahead with the house building. But also try and find that balance of just going with the flow. There will be ups and downs along the way and the less resistance the better you’ll feel throughout the whole process!

  4. Meredith, I can hardly wait to get anxious so I can put this to the test! Like James I think this is a major realization and I don’t think I ever gotten close to grasping it. Wow the physiological symptoms are the same but our interpretation of the experience could not be more different. Intuitively speaking, this sounds right. Huh!
    I think I shared with you in Baja (winter 2017) that I’m squeamish about playing guitar and singing- I’ve made great progress but still prefer jams to open mic situations. In fact, I’ve never done an open mic (by myself anyway) though I keep getting encouraged to do so. Could I see the cold sweats differently by saying, “I’m excited”? I think I’m excited ;0) Thanks Meredith and good luck staying in the POTNO!

    1. I have heard you play and you should absolutely be doing open mic nights! Please try this out – you may find you don’t like it after all – but you will never know unless you try it! So let’s get excited!

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