3 Ways to Overcome Performance Anxiety
You present yourself to others all the time. Every day, you say hello, answer questions, and tell stories. Most of the time, you do this without batting an eye. “Good morning. How is your day going? Can you believe this weather…?”
Some situations, though, get you nervous. Just thinking about having to say hello on a first date, answer questions in a job interview, or tell a story in front of a jury might be enough to make your heart beat a click faster.
Why are these circumstances so fraught with anxiety? Because the stakes are higher. And I don’t mean the obvious “stakes”—the outcome that you’re hoping for—the relationship, the job, the win. There’s something much, much more important at stake in these situations: Your entire identity and self-worth.
Lost the case = I am a loser.
No job offer = I am a failure.
No second date = I am not lovable.
Of course you get nervous! There’s a LOT more riding on the outcome of these events than you realized. And you already thought they were pretty important!
As soon as you become aware of the true underlying fear, you have the power to let it go. You can learn to detach your identity and sense of self-worth from things you can’t control (such as the actions and choices of others). Here are three ways to do that:
1. Commit to doing your best.
That’s ALL you can do. You CANNOT do better than your best. And chances are, your best isn’t perfect. So stop expecting perfection and beating yourself up for not attaining it.
When you expect perfection, one of two things happens: 1) You don’t live up to your expectations and are demoralized by your “failure,” or 2) You know it’s an unattainable goal so you don’t even try.
Do what you can as best you can. Then you will approve of your performance, even if it falls short of others’ expectations. Keep learning, keep trying, keep growing. As Maya Angelou said, “Do the best you can until you know better. Then when you know better, do better.”
When you’re facing a “high stakes” situation, give it your best shot. Whether or not you “win” is out of your hands. Focus on what is 100% within your control: Your effort.
2. Know yourself.
Who are you at your core? What do you stand for? What is unchangeable about you? Knowing this will help you weather the storms of life. Sometimes you win. Sometimes you lose. Such is life. You are still YOU.
The actions and choices of others do not define you. They very well may affect you. Yet you are the sum of your own thoughts, not the product of what others think of you. So, be careful what thoughts you allow to swirl around in your head. THOSE are what define you.
When you know your values and accept yourself, taking big chances is less risky. If your identity is not on the line, you’ll be willing to attempt—and in the end you will achieve—much more.
3. Forget yourself.
Once you know yourself, you are free to simply be. You no longer have anything to prove. Ironically, the more grounded you are in yourself, the more you are able to offer others.
So, forget yourself. Heading to court? Focus on the jury. Have a job interview? Make it a conversation, not a monologue. Going on a first date? Listen to and learn about the other person.
Instead of trying to be seen, SEE others. Really truly see them. Give, instead of trying to get. If it’s all about you, I’m sorry to tell you, no one cares. Leave your ego at the door and make a contribution.
This takes SO much pressure off! And the more you focus on others, the more likely you are to leave a favorable impression after all. When you worry about your “performance,” the performance automatically goes downhill. Rather, consider your contribution.
As long as your sense of self-worth is tied to how others treat you, it will fluctuate and so will your confidence and courage. You will miss opportunities because the risk is too high. You can’t control what anyone else does or thinks. So don’t allow the thoughts and actions of others to determine your emotional well-being.
It might feel like everything is riding on the outcome of this ONE BIG THING. But it’s not. Win or lose, life goes on, and there are more opportunities around the corner. If you do your best, stay grounded, and focus on your contribution, you’ll be more likely to do well in your endeavors and you’ll recover more quickly when you don’t. You’ll gain confidence knowing that no matter the outcome, you can handle it. And, almost like magic, that confidence will make it easier to face the challenges successfully.
Change your communication, change your life.