When we notice our anxiety levels rise, our default reaction is to try to calm down. We may tell ourselves to be calm, or we might tell others to relax, but this rarely works. The states of anxiety and calmness are on opposite sides of the emotional spectrum, so flipping between the two is near impossible.

Having said that, anxiety and excitement are much closer on this spectrum. Their only difference is that anxiety is negative anticipation while excitement is positive. The physical and psychological experience of these two states is actually very similar.

In 2014, Harvard psychologist Alison Wood Brooks ran three experiments to see how reframing anxiety as excitement is more effective than trying to calm down. She set up three situations designed to provoke anxiety. One group of participants were asked to prepare a persuasive speech on camera to be judged at a later time. The second group had to sing a song in front of a stranger while a karaoke machine measured their vocal quality. The third group was given a difficult math challenge and a short time to complete it. To add to the anxiety, the participants were told that if they performed well they’d be given a cash prize. Some of the participants were instructed to say “I am calm” before their challenge, while others said “I am excited”. The group who reframed their anxiety as excitement performed significantly better than their peers at every challenge.

I’ve had my own experience with this – not only at public speaking events, but in everyday life. For instance, I often find that after a cup of coffee I can easily become anxious and telling myself to calm down is not very effective. However if I channel that energy differently and get excited about going for a run or just working my butt off, I feel much better, more productive and more motivated.

Anxiety can follow an entrepreneur at every stage in business. Though they can take practical steps to avoid it, anxiety can rear its head in spite of your best efforts. By telling yourself that you’re not anxious but excited, you stop seeing challenges as threats, but as opportunities. This technique can guarantee superior performance while transforming your entire mindset leading to real results for your company.

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