Anxious or excited? It's up to you!

Tim Urban, the author of the blog Wait But Why, is probably one of the most captivating writers. In 2015 he got invited to do a TED talk, which ended up being one of the best humorous TED talks so far.

However, the whole preparation process was not as smooth as he’d expected. Tim had struggled A LOT and described all that in his blog post Doing a TED Talk: The Full Story. His brilliant blog entry reminded me of my first bigger speaking gig - an internal IT summit for 300 participants.

In 2015 the company I worked for decided to organize a summit (employees from different locations meet at one place). I thought it might be enjoyable to speak there, and I volunteered. Luckily, I was expected to give only 15-minute talk, together with my colleague.

The organizers guided us pretty well on what stories and topics might work best, and we had to prove ourselves in a few dry run sessions. Such strict preparation process was successfully building up my nervousness.

Know your real enemy

At my first days at Toastmasters (joined 8 months before the IT summit) I believed in a simple rule: the more you speak, the better you get. My primary goal was to eliminate public speaking nervousness.

However, getting rid of increased heart rate and aroused emotions was not as simple as I expected. Unfortunately, humans are complicated machines. I realized that small things, like a new facility or strangers, impact my emotions and eventually change my speaking style.

During one of the training I heard a captivating phrase: Fear of public speaking makes people better speakers. How is that even possible? Interestingly, many factors we feel before stepping on a stage (aroused emotions, increased heart rate) maps into two, very different emotions: anxiety and excitement. And the best result one can achieve when excitement is backed up with passion.

Anxious vs. Excited

Let’s examine a few situations. On the left, there is an anxious person, on the right an excited person.



I am overgeneralizing here a bit to make a point: even the same situation can be perceived differently by different people. From a physiological point of view, they all have similar symptoms: an increased heart rate and blood pressure, rapid breathing, increased sweating. Still, some of them enjoy it, some of them hate it.

Anxious or Excited - it’s up to you!

Self-talk

Alison Wood Brooks did an interesting study on how individuals can improve their performance, transform anxiety as excitement using minimal strategies. Apparently, even a short self-talk (saying “I am excited” out loud) can change the way we perceive challenges. Alison did several studies involving karaoke singing, public speaking, and math performance. Compared with those who attempt to calm down, individuals who transform anxiety as excitement feel more excited and perform better.



Anchoring

At an emotional intelligence training, I learned a neuro-linguistic programming (NLP) technique called anchoring. It teaches that we continuously make “anchors” between what we see, hear and feel and our emotions. For example, a person is capable of triggering different emotions just by recalling memories from the past.

When I want to transition from anxiety into excitement, I recall a memory from running competitions. I imagine myself waiting with other runners for a starting signal. It happens that the “running trick” doesn’t work that day as expected. The last resort method is an image that I am about to do a parachute jump from an airplane. I have never done the jump in the real life, but just thinking about it always brings a smile on my face and makes me super excited.

I am a weird, but a programmable person.

My first bigger talk

Let’s return to my speech at the IT summit. Dry run sessions, slide reviews, first time with a wireless headset microphone. All this was successfully building up my anxiety. As an antidote, I imagined myself doing a parachute jump, and it transformed me into a different person. And eventually, it was a great event.

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Links:

Get excited: reappraising pre-performance anxiety as excitement by Alison Wood Brooks

Can Three Words Turn Anxiety Into Success?

How to Turn Anxiety Into Excitement

Your body language may shape who you are by Amy Cuddy

How to make stress your friend by Kelly McGonigal

Doing a TED Talk: The Full Story by Tim Urban

Inside the mind of a master procrastinator by Tim Urban

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