May 172012
 
Share

performance anxiety

How To Overcome Performance Anxiety

When you have to perform, regardless of where or in what endeavor, if there are other people involved, performance anxiety is a very common affliction.  In other words, you feel all sorts of stress and anxiety as you are preparing to perform and during the performance itself.  It happens in business, sports, acting, speaking, among a variety of other areas of life.

So, if you are afflicted with performance anxiety, what should you do?  In order to answer this question well, it’s important to first understand why performance anxiety happens in the first place.

One of the most important reasons for performance anxiety is that we become afraid that we will not perform well.  We think there’s a chance that our performance will not live up to our expectations, to those of people we care about, and to those of people in general.  This happens whether there is any physical danger involved or not.  I guess we can refer to this as “mental danger,” that is, the fear that our ego will be injured or that others will not think of us as highly.

There are, of course, situations where there is actual physical danger involved, and where a panic response can be triggered, which can have a profound effect on our performance.  Such a response, triggered via the amygdala in our brains, is not referred to as the “fight or flight response” for no reason;  it is a very strong response to fear, and in such a state of mind, concentration and optimal performance of tasks can be very difficult to make happen.  As I’ve written elsewhere, this effect can be seen very clearly in the exercises U.S. Navy Seals must perform as part of passing the Underwater Pool Competency test.

For the purposes of this article though, let’s get back to non-life-threatening situations where, as the saying goes, the only thing we have to fear is fear itself.  What can we do to overcome performance anxiety and increase the probability that we will perform well when the time comes?

First, it is important to be aware that we are experiencing performance anxiety and that it is something that we are foisting upon ourselves, due in great part to how we are thinking.

Second, it is key that we do a sanity check.  That is to say, it’s critical that we ask ourselves if we are perhaps overreacting to the situation.  We don’t need an answer at this point, but we have to at least leave the possibility open that we may be blowing things out of proportion.

Third, we need to try to think in relative terms about what we’re about to do.  We should put it on a scale, with say a walk in a safe park on a sunny day being the lowest level of stress and risk, to super dangerous activities (such as base jumping or being caught in the cross-fire in a war zone) being the highest level of stress.  Where does this activity we’re about to perform fit on that scale?  By doing this, we can try to keep perspective on the reality of how unnecessary our performance anxiety likely is.

Fourth, we should use a mental trick or two to lessen the level of stress in our minds.  For example, and you’ve probably heard this one, if you’re about to give a speech in front of a large group of people and you’re scared to death to step out on the stage, picture all of the audience members in their underwear!  That should give you a good laugh and lighten the mood a bit in your mind.  It should also loosen you up, so you’re not too stiff when you give your speech.

Fifth, there’s a strong likelihood that you are quite literally blowing things out of proportion in your mind.  That is, you are probably thinking about the negative consequences of not doing “well” or particular risk factors in extreme terms.  You are probably seeing them very large in your mind.  If that’s the case, you should see them very small or distorted or in funny colors.  In other words, you should manipulate, in your mind, the various images that are troubling you, until such point as they become funny or even ridiculous.

Sixth, you should “stay inside your mind,” focusing on your own thoughts, not worrying about what others may say or think about how you will perform.  The fact is that in many cases, we bring far too much stress upon ourselves, simply by worrying that we’re going to disappoint others and not live up to their expectations.  We get concerned about what they may say to us or about us.  If you are going to be an effective performer, in almost any endeavor, you need to get over this behavior.  Stay inside your mind and perform for your own reasons.  Make sure that you are OK with yourself and your actions.  Do not focus on critics or potential critics.  Focus on doing better by your own standards.

Seventh, and perhaps most importantly, be aware of and take control of your breathing.  There’s a good chance that if you have excess anxiety, you will be breathing too quickly and/or too shallowly.  Make sure you are taking good deep breaths and exhaling fully.  Slow your breathing down to the point where you feel more comfortable and more relaxed.  Just the act of taking control of your breathing can make a significant difference in keeping your performance anxiety manageable.

Eighth, and finally for now, if all else fails, remember that at some point in the future (presumably and hopefully, far in the future), our sun will run out of fuel and become what’s known as a Red Giant, then a White Dwarf.  When this happens (remember, we’re talking millions, or more likely, billions of years from now), I won’t bore you with the details, but the scenario will be very bad for Earth and the human race and the game (the big game) will likely be over.  Suffice to say that if the Earth even survives the sun’s transition to White Dwarf, it will be completely frozen over. When you look at your performance anxiety in the context of this massive and inevitable future event, it is likely to not seem like such a big deal.  I’m not saying to run around being “gloom and doom” and a downer for yourself or others, but I am saying that you really need to keep it all in perspective.  If you can do this, you’ll have your performance anxiety under control before you know it.

I look forward to your thoughts.  Please leave a comment (“response”) below or in the upper right corner of this post.

Paul Morin

paul@companyfounder.com

www.companyfounder.com

Don’t miss an issue of Company Founder! Subscribe today.  It’s free.  It’s private.  It’s practical information for entrepreneurs and leaders interested in taking it to the next level.

Go to the right-hand navigation bar near the top of the page, enter your email and click subscribe.  We respect your privacy and will not sell your email address.  Note:  once you subscribe, if the confirmation email doesn’t arrive, check your spam filter.  It usually makes it through, but sometimes those pesky spam filters don’t know what’s good..

Share
Feb 022012
 
Share

In Stressful Situations, Your Training Takes Over

In Stressful Situations, Your Training Takes Over

What happens to you when you get into stressful situations?  Do you freeze up like the proverbial deer in headlights, or do you keep going, unphased, “like a pro”?  Your answer to this question can have a profound effect on your ability to obtain the results you desire, when the going gets tough.

Why does one person freeze up, when the other performs “calm, cool and collected” in a stressful situation?  One need look no further than Special Forces military training to gain significant insight into the answer to this question.

As I wrote in the article Overcome Your Fears and Become Great – The GAMES Approach, fear, in its various forms and manifestations, is often the culprit in sub-optimal performance during stressful, critical moments.  Whether it’s fear of failure, of the unknown, or of a multitude of other possible factors, including success, it can cause additional tension and interfere with one’s ability to focus and succeed in the “stressful” task at hand.

One way the Navy SEALs, for example, deal with this issue in training, is to teach their trainees to focus on the present and not permit extraneous thoughts in moments of high stress and potential panic.  This involves creating very short-term and achievable goals, so that you are not overwhelmed by a bunch of irrelevant thoughts and concerns and can remain totally engaged in the task at hand. So, for example in the case of the Underwater Pool Competency Test that all SEALs must pass, when you are underwater and the instructor tangles your breathing apparatus, you don’t think to yourself, “I wonder what he’s going to do to me next…”, or “I’m not sure how much more of this I can take…”, or “I wonder how the candidate next to me is doing…”. Rather, you say to yourself, simply, my goal is to untangle these knots – nothing more and nothing less. You then say to yourself: I will employ the knot untangling procedure we learned in training, step-by-step. Then you execute step one, step two … etc.  In other words, you block out all extraneous thoughts and factors and focus totally on the task at hand, step-by-step.  This short-term goal-setting represents the “G” in the GAMES Approach.

This approach, of course, presumes that you have procedures and have had “training step-by-step”.  The reality though is that in many endeavors, including sports, but especially in the business world, a large percentage of people have not received such training, if they’ve received any training at all.  This is particularly true in the entrepreneurial, small and family business world.  Large companies have, at least in part, learned the important lesson that detailed training is key, particularly when employees will be faced with stressful situations, where there is potential to panic and “freeze up”.  Many entrepreneurial companies are still climbing that learning curve.

Think about your own situation as an entrepreneur.  How much detailed, step-by-step training have you had in key areas of your business?  Why do you think apprenticeship has been a tried and tested approach to groom next generation performers in a variety of endeavors, throughout history?  This is the case because as you’re going through the learning phase, especially at the beginning of the journey, there is nothing like having a “master” to help you stay on the right track and guide you regarding how to handle challenges, particularly those that occur in high-stress situations.  In an apprenticeship, the master “craftsperson” is roughly equivalent to a coach or a mentor.  In the military, such apprenticeship is hierarchical, structured, and mandatory.  What is the equivalent in entrepreneurship?  For the most part, it doesn’t really exist.  There are bits and pieces, but it’s highly fragmented and the onus is on the individual entrepreneur to seek such training.  Granted, it’s not necessarily practical or even possible to undertake step-by-step training in all areas and situations an entrepreneur must master, but for many key areas of the business, such as marketing and finance, it is both possible and reasonably straightforward.

So what can be done about this lack of step-by-step training and exposure to key knowledge in the entrepreneurial world?  There are several options:

1.)   Wing it.  This is by far the most common approach.  It involves just handling challenges as they come along and not really taking pro-active steps to train and prepare for the inevitable challenges that will arise.  This is the “experience is the best teacher” approach and it has a great deal of merit, but also a great many bumps and bruises along the way, hopefully none of them fatal to your business.

2.)   Find a mentor.  This is an approach I highly recommend.  I have used this approach my entire entrepreneurial career.  It involves identifying people who have done what you want to do and asking them to help you prepare for the journey and address acute challenges as they arise.  This approach can be tremendously useful, but given the fact that mentors are very busy people and probably you are not compensating them for their time, you are not likely to get structured, step-by-step learning; your mentorship will take place opportunistically and over a significant period of time.

3.)   Become an apprentice.  If you’re early, or relatively early in your entrepreneurial career, why not become the right-hand-person to a successful entrepreneur, thus taking advantage of the age old apprentice/master approach?  It won’t be easy, but there may not be a better way to learn, if you can find the right relationship.  If you’re in a good-sized family business, there may be several such opportunities available.

4.)   Be a learning animal.  Study, even devour, every bit of written and recorded knowledge out there on your business and all the functional areas of business critical to your success.  Operate with the mindset that you can never learn too much.  Consume everything from current publications to the classics, in whatever media suit you, including written, audio, video and live events.

5.)   Hire a coach.  All “pros” have coaches, no matter what level they’ve achieved in their chosen endeavor.  This will cost you some money, but if you get very focused on what it is you’re trying to learn and improve on, the dollars you invest here will likely be very well spent.  The key is to find a coach or coaches with whom you are very compatible, so that the communications are efficient and effective and not weighed down by logistical and personality challenges outside the realm of the subject matter you are trying to learn.

6.)   Join peer groups.  There are CEO peer groups, such as Vistage, and there are peer groups for almost every functional area of business.  In fact, by now, there are peer groups, online and in-person, for just about any topic.  Find one that suits you and give it a try.  Again, this will cost you some money, but it is also likely to be money well spent, if you can hook up with the right groups.  Peers who have been through the challenges and the stressful situations you are likely to face should be able to help you be better prepared for when they arise in your business.

7.)   Participate in masterminds.  Masterminds have been around in various forms for quite a while, but only picked up this moniker in relatively recent times.  Usually, these days, they mostly involve “mastermind calls” with people who are trying to accomplish goals similar to those you are pursuing.  They may deliver much of the same value as “peer groups,” and sometimes, they can do so much more efficiently, as they often consist of relatively short, focused calls.

All of the above approaches and activities can help you better prepare for stressful situations, the kind where you want your training, rather than fear and panic, to take over.

Regardless of which of these approaches you decide to pursue, try to do so in a structured manner.  As the GAMES Approach lays out, goal-setting is just the first step in dealing with high-stress, potentially panic-inducing situations.  You will also want to work on arousal control, mental rehearsal, endurance (which you build through practice), and positive self-talk.  For the Navy SEALs at least, such an approach has led to markedly higher pass rates in what many would say is one of the most stressful challenges of all:  the Underwater Pool Competency Test.

Be very calculated about what it is you are trying to learn, then use all the various methods at your disposal to learn it, so that it becomes like second nature.  While you are not likely to face life-or-death situations to the extent of Special Forces operatives, your performance in stressful situations may, in fact, determine the life or death of your business.  Take the same focused, disciplined and successful repetition-driven approach in your own training, and you are more likely to see your business grow and prosper.  Make sure you seek and master the training and knowledge you need, before you need it.

I look forward to your thoughts and questions.  Please leave a comment (“response”) below or in the upper right corner of this post.

Paul Morin

paul@companyfounder.com

www.companyfounder.com

Don’t miss an issue of Company Founder! Subscribe today.  It’s free.  It’s private.  It’s practical information for entrepreneurs and leaders interested in taking it to the next level.

Go to the right-hand navigation bar near the top of the page, enter your email and click subscribe.  We respect your privacy and will not sell your email address.  Note:  once you subscribe, if the confirmation email doesn’t arrive, check your spam filter.  It usually makes it through, but sometimes those pesky spam filters don’t know what’s good..

Share
Sep 202011
 
Share

The Best Stress Tip

The Best Stress Tip

We live in a fast-paced world where change and stress are inevitable.  At various times when I’ve felt “over-stressed,” I have searched far and wide for approaches to “minimize stress” or “eliminate stress”.  After years of experience and varying degrees of success in minimizing and eliminating stress, I came to the conclusion that I had been looking at the issue the wrong way.  It’s not about getting rid of stress; it’s about seeing stress as a challenge.  In other words, see stress as a sign that you are making progress and embrace the opportunity to push through it.

The main catalyst for my change in thinking was a book I read several years ago by James Loehr; it was called Stress for Success.  One principle he taught in that book made a profound impact on how I look at stress and how I’m consistently able to work through it and come out stronger on the “other side”.  The principle was that you don’t want to try to avoid stress, as that is not possible.  Rather, you want to oscillate in and out of stress.  You need cycles of stress and recovery.  Neither a constant stressed state, nor a constant stress-free state is a positive thing.

You can imagine these cycles of stress and recovery however you’d like.  I like to visualize them as sine waves, or a single sine wave, depending on the situation.  This maps very well to the way I think about a lot of things in life as being cyclical.  I use this image in every difficult thing that I do, whether in sport, business, or other parts of my life.  I think it’s a useful metaphor, because implicit in the picture is a ray of hope.  Even though things may be very difficult during a particular period, or in a particular instant, when you visualize the cycles as illustrated here, you know that the difficulty will not last forever.  You know that if you keep pushing and stretch your limits a bit, you will make it to the “other side” and have a chance to rest and recover a bit.

As I’ve said many times elsewhere, I think hope is an essential element of happiness and achievement.  If these were not sine waves as above, but rather, “flat-lines,” like you see on an EKG monitor when someone’s heart has stopped beating, where would the hope be?  Whether the “flat-line” signified perpetual stress or perpetual relaxation, it wouldn’t matter.  In both cases, it would not be something to look forward to.

So, don’t fear stress.  Don’t try to eliminate it.  Embrace stress and see it as a challenge that will make the relaxation and recovery all the more pleasant when you push through to the “other side”.  Always keep in mind that without stress, generally there is not much achievement.  By default, if you are innovating or improving on existing constructs, you are making changes, which invariably entails stress.  You are “making waves”.  Now you can think of them as “sine waves” and see them as a matter of course.  Take them in stride.  Get used to them.  Value the periods of recovery that much more, as you know they will refresh you so you’ll be ready when the next wave arrives … and it will.

I look forward to your thoughts and questions.  Please leave a comment (“response”) below or in the upper right corner of this post.

Paul Morin

paul@companyfounder.com

www.companyfounder.com

 

Don’t miss an issue of Company Founder! Subscribe today.  It’s free.  It’s private.  It’s practical information for entrepreneurs and leaders interested in taking it to the next level.

Go to the right-hand navigation bar near the top of the page, enter your email and click subscribe.  We respect your privacy and will not sell your email address.  Note:  once you subscribe, if the confirmation email doesn’t arrive, check your spam filter.  It usually makes it through, but we’ve had a few get caught up in the filter.

 .

Share
Jan 102011
 
Share

The greatest weapon against stress is our ability to choose one thought over another.
____________
William James

Being an achiever can be a stressful undertaking – there’s no doubt about it. As William James points out here, the good news is that we have a great weapon to combat stress: our ability to choose what we think about and dwell on. When something challenging happens or someone says something you don’t particularly like, take a second, take a deep breath and remember that you are in full control of how you react. You may have had little or no control of what was said or what may have happened, but you have full control over your thoughts and your actions. That’s very good news indeed. Use it to your advantage.
.

Share