Last week, I had the honor of co-hosting a fitness talk show with my good friend Eraldo Maglara on WMCN TV. It was such a thrill to be on set, talking about fitness and lifestyle and mindset (all my favorite things!)—but you can bet, I was nervous.
Backstage, after having my make-up and hair done, I had a few minutes before the cameras started rolling. And in those moments of waiting, nervousness crept in: my hands were sweating, my shoulders were tight. I tried to relax, but I only succeeded in getting more and more worked up. I closed my eyes, took a deep breath, tried a little meditation—but it didn’t work.
After a minute, I thought, this is stupid. Let me just get up and do something. So I went out into the hallway, and did jumping jacks and boxing moves, trying to disperse all that nervous energy. I made a fist and jumped up, like my team had just scored a goal, like “Yes! I did it!” And I got so excited!
Then, since I felt better, I tried to relax again and find my center. But, amazingly, I just got nervous all over again. So I thought, well, why not just stick with the higher energy thing that was making me feel so much better? I’d been laughing, smiling, I was able to think and focus. So I did. And I went out on the set, ready to go, with a clear head and a big, excited smile.
Then, later that week, I found a scientific reason why this works. (I love when that happens!)
In her new book The Upside of Stress, Kelly McGonigal shares the results of a study conducted at Harvard Business School. In it, participants were asked which was a better way to prepare for a stressful experience – try to calm down, or try to feel excited. A whopping 91% – almost every one! – of the respondents chose trying to calm down.
But that’s not what you should do at all, the study found. That response goes against your body’s natural tendency to respond to stress. When you try to calm down nervousness, you’re working in opposition to the energy created by the stress.
So what should you do?
Literally. Say to yourself, “I’m excited.” Embrace the anxiety, and it’ll work to your advantage.
According to Brian Johnson in his PhilosophersNotes, this is how you can convert a physiological response—sweating, tenseness, stress—into excitement. And it’s been proven—it works.
In a study by the same researcher at Harvard, two groups were told they were going to give an important speech that day. In the waiting room beforehand, one group was told to say to themselves, “I am calm.” The other was instructed to say, “I’m excited.”
Guess who felt better, going on out the stage? Yep, the “I’m excited” group.
And—get this—guess whose speeches were better received by the audience? You bet—the “I’m excited” group.
“The next time you feel stressed…know that you have a choice,” says Johnson. “You can try to get rid of it, and think that something’s wrong, or you can say, I’m excited.”
Give it a shot. Next time you’re preparing for something stressful, embrace that stress—don’t try to squash it! Your brain, your body, and your performance will be better for it.