Performance Anxiety - Why some people get it and what to do about it
It’s your moment to shine. You’ve been training for this for months, possibly years. All those early mornings or late nights in the cold and dark. You’re at your peak, every muscle honed, skills perfected. You can almost feel the weight of the medal in your hand, the cheers of the crowd. And now the time has finally arrived, the nerves set in. Your heart is racing, palms sweating. What if they are stronger, fitter, more clever than you? What if you mess up and your mind goes blank, you trip or miss? What if you can’t do this?
That in a nutshell is performance anxiety. The reason many people perform worse in competition and high stakes situations than they do in training. Why they miss easy shots, over think their moves or get tongue tied. It happens in all areas of life from sports to business. But not everybody is affected to the same degree. Why is that?
It comes down to focus. With any big goal focussing on the outcome can be overwhelming. It seems too big, too far away or too much is riding on it, the pressure is immense. But you don’t have to focus on the end result, instead you can get into your flow.
What is flow?
Flow is that magical performance state where skill, intuition and focus meet. It’s a place of action where you create and perform without second guessing yourself or thinking about anything other than what you’re doing. You are completely in the moment, doing your thing. It’s where sports people make incredible plays, artists create their best work and presentations to your boss unfold with ease. Your sweet spot.
How do you get into flow?
The flow state requires a certain level of competence in what you’re doing. It’s like driving a car, riding a bike or the first few weeks in a new job. At first you have to think really hard about every move (and maybe even stick your tongue out for extra concentration) but over time it becomes instinctual. When you reach that level in your sport or work flow comes naturally.
What keeps us out of flow?
That noisy critical voice in your head is great at blocking your flow. Thoughts about not being good enough, worrying what other people will think of you or focussing on past mistakes, these are all sticks in the dam blocking the river. When you dismantle the dam the water runs freely again.
How do you unblock your flow?
Work on your negative self-talk. Don’t let it go under the radar unchallenged. Notice the negative things you’re saying to yourself and take a moment to examine each one.
Is there any evidence for it being true?
Is there evidence that it’s not true or not always true?
Does thinking this way serve your interests?
What else could you choose to think/believe instead?
When you examine your negative thoughts and beliefs objectively they begin to lose their power. When you choose to believe in yourself and have a growth mindset you’ll find yourself listening less to the internal chatter and spending more time in flow.
What if I’m just not feeling the flow today?
Everyone can get in a funk sometimes. Maybe you’ve had a really busy day and your mind is on other things. It may seem like flow is far away but it’s always closer than you think. Take a few deep breaths and start to think about a time when you were in flow.
What were you doing?
Who was with you? Were you alone?
How did it feel?
What could you see, hear and smell?
What were you focusing on?
Imagine it as vividly as you can and you’ll soon find yourself in the flow again.
Concentrating on the outcome and the ‘what if’s can make you anxious even though you know you’re well prepared. By shifting your focus you can stop yourself going down that rabbit hole so you can perform at your best. Because once you’ve had the experience of being in flow you know how to get back into it.
Need help overcoming performance anxiety? Contact Rachel on [email protected]