By g. m. johnson, phd ~ clinical psychologist
Why? Anxiousness that interferes with performance can be due to a tendency to be anxious that’s wired in physically. It can also be due to an accidental happinstance that starts a vicious cycle of worry that leads to anxiousness that interferes with performance and causes more reason to worry.
In the “zone.” Many kinds of performance go best if the performer can get into a kind of “zone” where consciousness is a secondary component. Riding a bicycle is a good example. Learning to ride a bicycle involves a lot of conscious focus on balancing and adjusting — but optimal bike riding performance happens when the physical demands are well learned and can be sort of “forgotten about” consciously.
Consciously focusing on what you are doing can actually interferewith performance. When riding a bicycle, consciously focusing on what you are doing is a good way to end up with a skinned elbow or broken arm. It is only when we can put our consciousness to the side to be an integrated part of the overall experience of what we are doing that we can optimally perform the various tasks involved in bicycling. The bicyclist who begins to be anxious about what he is doing is more likely to end up falling off his bike. This is the same situation for one’s performance when playing sports, tight-rope walking, making love, performing music, public speaking, taking a test, and a wide range of other activities.
Performance anxiety becomes a problem because of the actions of a well-meaning protective system built into us back before the caveman days. This protective system alarms and alerts us that there is a possible danger looming. In the case of performance anxiety, though, the system is alarming and alerting us that a bad performance might be dangerous to some hope or plan. The problem is that this alarm-alert system is pretty much an anti-bear, anti-lion danger defense optimization system. This is good for performance levels in bear-fighting and similar contests but is counter-productive to performance in most other kinds of endeavors. So rather than protecting us from whatever consequences a bad performance might result in, the system actually makes those consequences more likely. And as if that wasn’t problem enough, when we notice that our anxiousness about performance is interfering with performance, the alarm-alert kicks in about that problem — alerting us to the danger it itself is causing — and makes us even more anxious and gets even more in the way of performance.
Practice and Study Strategies
First of all, nothing will replace knowing as much as possible about accomplishing what you’re supposed to be accomplishing. Of course, for some forms of performance, practice is performance (e.g., sexual performance), so issues of “study” don’t apply. But for many forms of performance, practice is important. (If you are anxious about your performance because you really haven’t studied or prepared, you’re probably stuck being anxious.)
- Practicing under the conditions that are as close as possible to the conditions you’ll be in when performing will optimize performance.
Practicing for a skating competition at a rink half or twice the size of the rink where the competition will be will not be as effective as practicing at the same size rink. The same rink would be best. Practicing for a big 100 question test by looking at ten or twelve test questions every few hours will not be as effective as practicing 100 questions at a time.
Imagining performing optimally can be very helpful to performance. Our imaginations — which do not get much practice in our modern world — are very powerful tools. Imagining optimally performing actually provides a mental and mini-mental rehearsal that can facilitate best performance. Your brain goes through the steps of the performance, actually sending little signals to the muscles, reinforcing and enhancing the nervous system pathways and mechanics that are used in the mental and physical aspects of the performance.
Imagining screwing up can increase screw-ups and diminish performance. Conversely to the suggestion above, imagining screwing up can actually lead to a greater likelihood of doing so. Thinking about not stumbling, for example, requires your mind to go through and imagine the process of stumbling — and thus practices and reinforces the mental and physical aspects of unwanted, counter-productive moves and thoughts.
For struggles with study and test-taking in college, check out the college success strategies article for information on college test studying and test-taking strategies.
- Limit unnecessary stressors. Some may think this is a no-brainer, but it’s not. It’s easy to unthinkingly add stress when stressed about and focused on getting ready for a test or other performance. It’s easy to decide to take on something you think will distract you a little from stress and end up distracted a lot and stressed even more. Avoid dumping your stress on supporters. Eat right. Sleep right. Put off taking a new part time job. Put off getting a new puppy. Don’t party. If you can control the agenda on your performance or any potential stressors, try to keep them as separate as possible. Don’t sit around telling yourself horror stories about possible performance/test catastrophes. Don’t hang out with others that will get you thinking about horror stories about possible performance catastrophes.
Monitor self-talk. Few people realize that the way our complex minds work is that the various thinking parts interact like people in an office building. If the president of the company is running around talking about possible catastrophes, it scares the workers. Anxiousness goes up. If the president of the company goes around with the attitude that things will be fine, the workers are reassured.
Relaxation skills are skills that a person can learn and practice that work to counter-act the physical and emotional experience of anxiety. These can include statements you can make to yourself that are reassuring (along the lines of self-talk, above), images you can hold in your mind that are relaxing, memories of feelings of relaxation that you can bring to mind (which causes the feelings to recur as well), activities that can focus your mind on relaxing thoughts, or other “techniques” that can be used to stimulate your system to settle down the adrenalin and other alarm chemistry. It’s good to have one or two of these tools that work for you and that can be utilized in settings ranging from bedtime to intense business meetings or social interactions.
Decatastrophizing failure. Many folks have a tendency to counter-productively engage in trying to whip themselves to excellence with fantasies or self-talk about catastrophe if less than perfect performance happens. If this works for you, fine. But for most people, scaring the hell out of yourself with a bunch of catastrophizing — about the end of the known world if the performance isn’t right or if the test score isn’t high enough — does way more to fuel anxiety and interfere with performance or test-taking than motivate perfection.
If you’re one of these people that turns up the anxiety with vague warnings of doom, rethink the strategy. A good technique for dealing with a penchant for catastrophizing is to ask one’s self what will really, logically happen if the performance is bad or the test is failed — and how that will be effectively handled. Once you decide you really can handle the worst that can happen (e.g., “I’ll look like an idiot but I’ve survived that before”; “I’ll have to wait till the next time to try again and I can practice a lot more in the mean time”; “I’ll have to take the darn course again next semester”; etc.), your anxiety will be less likely to come into play. Take a moment to remind yourself that you’ve survived every turn and twist of life so far and that you’re likely to survive a failed performance.
Hypnosis and hypnosis tapes/CDs. Hypnosis and hypnosis recordings can be wonderfully helpful in dealing with test anxiety and performance anxiety. Because hypnosis can access and suggest ideas to mental mechanisms usually considered unconscious, hypnosis can be very helpful. Hypnosis can help in fostering the mind’s ability to set aside fears and can help by fostering physical performance and memory systems and can increase feelings of confidence, competence and alert relaxation. Hypnosis can in many cases foster that almost magical sense of being “in the zone” when performing or test-taking. There are pros and cons to live hypnosis versus recorded but either can be very effective. Live is generally better with respect to being able to be altered to fit the particular hypnotic subject. Recorded hypnosis cannot be altered as the hypnotic subject reacts but for most people is advantageous because it is much easier to schedule, it is usually easier to be comfortable alone in one’s own surroundings versus a stranger’s office and it is much less expensive ($240-$600 for four sessions versus $20-$50 for four listenings).
- From performance-anxiety.com.To read from the original source please click here