Think back to the last time you took an important exam. How did you feel just before sitting down? Were you pumped and ready to ace every question? Or were you sick to the stomach, worried that you’d forgotten to study something crucial and imagining your inevitable failure?
We all respond differently to anticipated fears. While some of us welcome the rush of adrenaline that a risky situation brings, many – if not most – of us panic. This panic triggers all kinds of physical responses, from dizziness to desperately needing the restroom.
If this sounds all too familiar, don’t worry. By learning how to reinterpret your physical responses to challenges, you can transform yourself from a fretter to a fighter.
The key message here is: By reframing our fear, we can use it to improve our performance.
Those fiery exam takers, convinced of their success, are in what’s called a challenge state. Much like the stress-heads, their body floods with adrenaline when confronted by stress. But instead of interpreting their sweaty palms and increased heart rate as signs that they’re about to fail, they see them as their body preparing for a battle they’ll win. As they imagine their success, the reward center in their brain activates, which reduces fear. This in turn increases oxygen levels in their blood, so that they can make fast, reliable decisions.
The good news is, we can all get into a challenge state and respond positively to stress. To do so, take time before your next big event to visualize how brilliantly you’ll perform. For example, if you have a job interview, imagine yourself dressed to impress. See yourself confidently greeting your interviewer, and picture yourself calmly and audibly answering every question. Repeat this practice as much as possible before your appointment. It will help you feel in control and keep your fear at bay.
Pay attention to your self-talk too. Substitute every negative thought for a positive one. Instead of telling yourself that you’re doomed to fail, root for yourself! Athletes have been using this to manage pre-competition nerves for eons, and it works!
The more you practice, the easier it’ll be to enter a challenge state. Once you’ve retrained how you interpret your physical responses to fear, you’ll become more comfortable throwing yourself into those nerve-racking challenges. You’ll also be in a stronger position to come up with a Plan B if you need to. We’ll explore this more in the next blink.