I just finished reading a fantastic book – Originals: How Nonconformists Move the World, by Adam Grant.
Towards the end of the book, Grant describes an experiment that was conducted at Harvard Business School by professor Allison Brooks. She gave her students 2 minutes’ notice to perform a persuasive speech in front of a packed auditorium.
Since the majority of people list public speaking as their greatest fear, you can imagine how nervous and jittery the students were feeling.
If asked for advice regarding what to do in a situation like this, most people would suggest the speaker try to calm down and relax.
Professor Brooks took a different tactic.
She randomly assigned each student to either say “I am calm” or “I am excited” right before they went on stage to give their speech. This one small difference made a huge impact. Students were rated as 15% more confident and 17% more persuasive when they said they were excited, rather than calm.
There’s an important lesson to be learned in this story.
We all have moments of fear, those times of jittery nervousness when we don’t know what’s going to happen. Trying to convince ourselves that we’re calm when we’re not is counterproductive – not only will we very rarely be able to actually calm down, but our failure to do so often increases our nerves instead of reducing them.
Rather than ignoring fear and pretending it doesn’t exist, it’s far better to reframe it. Accept it, embrace it, and harness it for your benefit. In professor Brooks’ study, she had her students reframe their fear into excitement. Such a simple shift, but it made all the difference.
Fear paralyzes us.
It leaves us imagining the worst, fumbling around and stumbling because of the dangers we’ve created in our mind. Excitement has many of the same physical characteristics, but the mental attitude is completely different.
Excitement makes us eager for the future.
When we are excited we can take on anything because we’re eager to see what’s next.
It may seem small, but this mental shift makes all the difference.
It’s very unlikely that you’ll be able to change what your body is physically doing – racing heart, shaky limbs, sweaty palms, etc. But by reframing and harnessing your fear, you can turn it into an ally instead of an enemy. A simple shift that could have inestimable effects on you and your life!