There was vomit on my sweater already: Mom’s spaghetti.
I was nervous, but on the surface I looked calm and ready.
Wait, no. That’s not right.
Those were the lyrics to Eminem’s “Lose Yourself”.
But…it’s also a pretty accurate depiction of how anxious people feel when they’re about to step on-stage, give a speech, or approach a cute girl.
The inability to understand one’s anxiety is why people get addicted to Valium, spend years in therapy, and avoid social interaction altogether.
A lot of people think their anxiety is a life sentence, something they’re helplessly stuck with. I relate with this feeling. I understand why people feel this way.
Here’s the thing, though: they’re wrong.
There’s No Reason To Fear Anxiety. You Can Use It To Your Benefit.
Anxiety scares the hell out of most of us.
And, it’s supposed to.
Anxious feelings are part of our evolutionary ‘fight or flight’ response: used to be, if we didn’t listen to it we were something’s dinner.
Many performers, musicians, and speakers try to calm the actual feelings of stress and anxiety. They say that less anxious energy running through them helps them perform better.
Some of them even go as far as taking beta blockers – a medicine that regulates cardiac arrhythmia, blood pressure, and migraine headaches – to help calm down tightly wound nerves.
Seems pretty reasonable in a high-stakes situation, really.
Dr. Noa Kageyama, a psychologist specializing in musician’s performance anxiety, said this is shortsighted, though:
Peak performance – those rare moments when everything just “clicks” and your performance is truly inspired – requires intense concentration, focus, and energy….It is only when you get on stage and the adrenaline kicks in that you have access to this energy.”
Don’t bother trying to ‘beat’ your anxiety and get rid of all those high-energy sensations. Forget trying to be calm – use it to your advantage.
So, that begs the question…
“How do I use my anxious feelings to actually enhance my performance?”.
Let’s dig into that.
Your Anxiety Is Your Choice. A Drunk Scientist Told Me So.
I was sipping on a gin & tonic at a busy hotel bar on a Saturday night in downtown Chicago recently. I was doing my favorite thing in the world: talking to strangers and drinking cocktails.
I struck up a conversation with a cool group of people who all turned out to be Ph.D.’s in biology, chemistry, and pharmacology. These guys and girls were really. fucking. smart.
When I mentioned this blog and that I write about social anxiety, one of the doctors in the group chimed in and said:
Anxiety is funny. The feeling that most people call ‘anxiety’ is nothing more than a serious of physiological reactions – there’s a stimulus, cortisol starts pumping [stress hormone], fight or flight kicks in. Bam, that’s it.
He later went on to tell me that the feeling that people call ‘being excited’ has the same physiological reactions as ‘being anxious’.
Read that last sentence again.
He finished up his story and I just sat there like…
The feeling of arousal is automatic. But, whether it’s ‘anxiety’ or ‘excitement’ is a choice. It’s your interpretation that makes the difference.
I marveled at the brilliance of the science behind anxiety for the rest of the night.
As the gin & tonic became bourbon on the rocks and the hotel bar became a late-night club, I ran into my close friend, Spencer Burnett. I told him about what I’d just learned from my new friends.
As a sought after personal performance and dating coach, Spencer deals with anxious clients everyday. He echoed and shined new light on what my new friends had taught me:
Excitement and anxiousness are two different sides of the same coin. The chemical reaction is a autonomic physiological response but the lens you filter it through is a personal choice.”
If your feelings are a choice between anxiety & excitement, there has to be practical ways to easily make this happen.
And, I was right…there’s scads of practical ways to transform your anxiety on a dime. Let’s explore my two favorite ways.
Question Your Fear Until It Collapses & Becomes Excitement
A positive intent lies behind every negative belief you have.
Your ancient ancestors on the Serengeti didn’t fear the tiger just…because. He feared the tiger for a positive outcome: to survive and keep his family safe.
That mechanism is still with us in 2017.
We all have loads of negative beliefs and fears but – behind all of the anxiety – your mind is gunning for a positive outcome. It’s only framed negatively because humans largely “move away from” more than they “go towards”.
When your beliefs lean negative, fear and anxiety are your auto-pilot feelings.
The upside to this is…
You Can Transform Your Fear Into Excitement-inducing Beliefs (in about 10 minutes)
Discovering the positive intent behind your anxiety is easy: Simply assume there is a positive message to be found and question your negative beliefs until it shows up (it usually happens in minutes!).
I was recently talking to a friend who was nervous as hell about a job interview he had coming up in a few days. He was rightly afraid that all this worrying was going to sabotage his success.
We worked through my “Fear Busting Process” and re-shaped his fear in just a few minutes.
I’ve been using this process for the last 5 years to transform my fears around public speaking, selling, approaching women, and more. I just do this process a few times for a specific issue and start to see results in days, if not sooner.
Here’s how it went down:
Dalton: “What’s your big source of anxiety right now?”
Friend: “I’m afraid that I’m going to fuck up this big job interview next week. I’m really nervous.”
D: “So, it sounds like you really want to do well at this interview because you want this job? That’s why you’re feeling anxious.”
F: “Exactly. I’ve wanted this job for years and now I’m totally qualified for it.”
D: “So, by nailing this job interview, you’ll get the job. And, if you get the job, how does that change your personal life, your wellbeing?”
F: “Besides the money, it’s more aligned with what I’m interested in and passionate about. I feel like I can give of myself easily with this job, I can be more authentic, really.”
D: “That’s awesome. So, if you’re able to be more authentic in your career, how does that impact your overall wellbeing?”
F: “I feel like I’ll be more content and at peace with myself. I also think I’ll have more positive energy because I’m doing something I’m passionate about. My energy will be focused.”
D: “That’s huge, man. So, with these feelings of contentedness and focused energy, how do you see that impacting your wellbeing?”
F: (breaking out into a HUGE grin) “Dude. I feel like this work will bring out the best qualities in me. I can really give back to others by doing this work. I feel like I just want to be generous with myself.”
D: “Fucking excellent. Let me ask you something: if you were interviewing for a job that would – guaranteed – make you feel more authentic, at peace with yourself, focused, and being generous to others with all of your positive energy, how would that job interview go?”
F: “Oh. Dude. Incredibly. I’d feel so pumped up and excited the entire time. And, I wouldn’t just be enthusiastic because I’m actually qualified for the job. My enthusiasm, passion, purpose, AND my skills would come through crystal clear.”
D: “So, do you think you can nail this job interview now?”
F: “Without a doubt, man. I didn’t realize I was actually excited about this. I’ve been dreading this interview for days.”
All it took for him to transform his anxiety into being excited and motivated was to simply question his fear’s positive motives. We just dug down until we discovered what was really behind his anxiety about wanting to do a good job.
Once you’ve discovered the excitement behind your fear, you can easily align that with your goal with some simple visualization exercises and frequent reminders.
(If you want to get deep into this process, buy “Core Transformation: Reaching The Wellspring Within” by Dr. Connirae Andreas)
You’re Anxious Because You Don’t Know What You Stand For
Every socially awkward and anxious person I’ve ever met was hyper-concerned about what people thought of them, constantly gauging other’s responses and perceived opinions to them.
They’re so anxious and tightly wound because they’re always bouncing from one version of themselves to another, trying to figure out which one you like best.
It’s hard to trust these people. They’ll sell out themselves – and you – in a heartbeat.
What’s behind all this pathetic behavior?
Self-indulgent people have no connection to the values that drive them and what really matters in their life.
Ask them what motivates them to be the most excellent version of themselves and they’ll answer with a blank stare.
If you’re rooted in what matters to you in life – and in this moment – anxiety goes out the window. From this point, any seemingly ‘nervous energy’ starts to look like anticipation, excitement, and being pumped.
Want To Transform Your Anxiety? Grab A Pen and A Pad.
For the last 15 years, when I feel bouts of anxiety or second-guessing myself, I always just talk my way out of it. It’s a piece of cake.
I’ll often do it before a sales pitch, speech, or some other high-stakes social situation.
I’ll talk to myself or someone else about what really matters to me, who I know myself to be, the lofty goals I hold, and – most importantly – who I love and why.
This exercise is incredibly grounding and gives me a ‘center of gravity’ from which to speak and act. Anxiety and stress seems to melt away. It’s powerful shit.
Turns out, this isn’t just my own little idea but it’s got a fancy-ass scientific name: psychologists call it ‘values affirmation’.
In a recent UCLA study, researchers had participants give a five-minute speech to a demanding audience that would constantly interrupt and bark orders at them. This is sure to piss off anyone and cause some anger and anxiety.
Before the speech, half of the participants wrote a fifteen-minute essay where they reflected on one of their most deeply held values.
Results showed that those participants who did the writing exercise reported significantly less stress while preparing for the speech. They also found that participants cortisol levels (the stress hormone) showed no significant spikes during the admittedly stressful speech.
So, by being clear and aligned with your most important values, you’re transforming your shaky anxiety and fear to steadfast confidence.
Pretty rad, huh?
My 100% un-scientific reason for why this works.
It all comes down to seeking the approval of other people.
When you’re not in touch with what matters to you, you look outside of yourself for direction. You mimic what you think others believe. You wait for someone else to tell you that you’re a good little boy and you’re doing such a good job!
You know deep down that you do that and it doesn’t work.
But, when you ground yourself in what you value, something fucking magical happens…
Your need for approval will disappear because you already approve of yourself.
You’ll appear more competent and persuasive during speeches and sales pitches because your words come from a more authentic place.
Flirting with girls becomes a blast. You’re more laidback and playful because you’re not going after her approval – you’re just here to have fun with her. No matter what happens, your toes are tappin’.
And, from this point, it’s all possible, baby.
Now, go forth and express yourself…and be excited about it!