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Psyched Up

How the Science of Mental Preparation Can Help You Succeed

By Daniel McGinn
13-minute read
Audio available
Psyched Up: How the Science of Mental Preparation Can Help You Succeed by Daniel McGinn

Psyched Up (2017) takes on the subject of performance. It looks at how top performers in a variety of fields psych themselves up for action and provides actionable advice to help you prepare and perform better.

  • Those who experience performance anxiety
  • People curious about the psychology of top performers
  • Underperformers trying to get back on top of their game

Daniel McGinn is an author and journalist. His work has appeared in Newsweek, Wired and the Boston Globe magazine. He also serves as an editor of the Harvard Business Review.

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Psyched Up

How the Science of Mental Preparation Can Help You Succeed

By Daniel McGinn
  • Read in 13 minutes
  • Audio & text available
  • Contains 8 key ideas
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Psyched Up: How the Science of Mental Preparation Can Help You Succeed by Daniel McGinn
Synopsis

Psyched Up (2017) takes on the subject of performance. It looks at how top performers in a variety of fields psych themselves up for action and provides actionable advice to help you prepare and perform better.

Key idea 1 of 8

You can deal with performance anxiety by reappraising it and centering yourself.

The big day has arrived. In a few hours, you’ll be auditioning for Broadway’s next hit musical, singing and dancing for a group of people you’ve never seen before. You’re so nervous you could explode.

OK, maybe musical theater isn’t your thing – but you’ve probably experienced pre-performance anxiety at some point, whether before a job interview or while preparing a presentation.

Anticipatory anxiousness – more commonly known as the fight-or-flight response – is a physiological reaction to stress.

When you feel threatened, your body produces adrenaline, a hormone that causes an increase in your blood pressure, as well as your heart and respiratory rates. Now, this is helpful if you have to run away or engage in a physical confrontation. It’s not so great, however, when there’s no tangible threat of danger.

Inconveniently, almost any stress can trigger the fight-or-flight response. For instance, the American musician Carly Simon once suffered such an acute attack of anxiety during a 1981 concert that she had to seek help from the audience. Fans had to get onstage and calm her down by rubbing her arms.

But maybe you’re looking for a less hands-on relaxant.

Well, one way to alleviate anxiety is to reappraise it.

Alison Brooks first perceived the benefits of reappraisal while auditioning for Princeton’s undergrad a cappella group. She noticed that excited singers tended to perform better than nervous ones.

Later, while pursuing her doctorate, she conducted a study. Before giving a performance, participants were told to do one of three things: say “I’m so excited,” say “I’m so nervous” or say nothing and try to remain calm.

The results proved Brooks’ hypothesis. The participants who announced their excitement, and thus reappraised it, performed better than the others. They managed to alchemize anxiety into excitement.

This is effective because returning from an anxious state to a calm state is hard. The two emotions are far apart. Transitioning from anxious to excited, however, doesn’t take much effort.

Centering is yet another anxiety-reducing technique. Aikido masters in Japan remain calm yet intent when practicing their martial art. Robert Nideffer, a sports psychologist, devised steps to achieving similar focus.

Begin by breathing deeply. While concentrating on your breath, release the tension in your muscles. Then imagine that all your body’s energy is concentrated in your physical center, the point just beneath your belly button. Once it’s all there, release it.

This centering technique will bring you calm and renewed focus.

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