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Keep Calm and Carry On? Another Perspective


For years the conventional wisdom about how to banish nerves before a speech or TV interview has been to calm down. Deep breathing, visualization, and meditating are all tools to get to a place where public speaking is a little less scary — and your knees less shaky.

But Harvard Business School researcher Alison Wood Brooks has thrown a monkey wrench into this notion of calming down and carrying on. In a study published in the Journal of Experimental Psychology (www.apa.org/pubs/journals/relases/xge-a0035325.pdf), Brooks suggests that turning nervousness into excitement may be the wiser course. Brooks found that study participants who reframed anxious feelings as excitement performed better while speaking (she had similar results with karaoke singers and students attacking math problems). Rather than calming down, individuals who pumped up their enthusiasm with phrases like “I am excited” improved their performance by changing from a negative to positive mindset, or in psychological parlance a “threat mindset” to an “opportunity mindset.” Brooks believes that the effects are cumulative and that repetition, i.e. the more times individuals channel their anxiety into excitement, the more confident and successful they will be in the future.

I’m curious to hear what our readers think about this. Which approach calms your nerves more effectively: chilling out or getting pumped up? Let us know.

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