by Justin Bariso, Inc. Magazine, 4/15/16.
When was the last time you were anxious?
When we encounter such situations, we often try and prepare by telling ourselves to relax, to calm down.
But as it turns out, that may be precisely the wrong thing to do.
At least, according to recent research by Alison Wood Brooks, a professor at Harvard Business School. Brooks studies a phenomenon known as “anxiety reappraisal.” Instead of trying to calm yourself down when you’re anxious, says Brooks, you should try saying the following three words:
I am excited.
Brooks performed a series of experiments for a study published in 2014. After gathering participants, she presented a series of tasks including singing karaoke, speaking in public, and completing a difficult math task under time pressure.
The participants were then told to either say “I am anxious,” “I am excited,” or nothing before they broke into song. The “excited” participants not only felt more excited, and they also sang better, according to a computerized measurement of volume and pitch. Their on-and-on-and-ons were just more, well, on–perhaps because the participants themselves were.
The same was true of a speech test. When asked to give a two-minute speech on camera, the excited participants spoke longer and were seen as more persuasive, confident, and persistent. Then came a math test, in which the excited participants similarly outperformed a group that was told to remain calm.
The interesting thing is this method didn’t lower subjects’ heart rates…or even make them less “anxious.” It simply turned that anxiety into something positive: excitement, or enthusiasm.
It may sound too simple to be true, but the principle makes sense. As Khazan explains in this video, anxiety reappraisal is meant to get yourself “out of a threat mindset where you’re focused on all the things that can go wrong, and into an opportunity mindset where you’re thinking about all the good things that could happen if you do well.”
“It’s much easier to get from anxiety to excitement than it is from anxiety to calm,” says Khazan…