Our Thoughts Can Affect Our Performance

In the previous post, I discussed how nervousness can affect your mind and body and impact your performance.  I also looked at two strategies – naming your feelings and accessing your success anchor – to gain control over your nervousness.  In this post, I want to focus on how our thoughts can affect our performance.

Our negative thoughts

When we are nervous or anxious about our performance before some public activity, our minds tend to race, and we lose control over our thinking. We can be bombarded with a whole host of negative thoughts – “What if I forget what I was going to say?”, “What will people think of me?”, “How will I ever recover if I embarrass myself in front of my colleagues?”,  “Will I cope if they reject me?”, or “What if I do not meet their expectations?”

These negative thoughts often lead to procrastination.  I have found many times that people fail to start something because of these kinds of negative thoughts.  Sometimes, these disabling thoughts are not at a conscious level – they may just manifest as nervousness or anxiety.  This is where an exercise to name your feelings and the thoughts that create them can be very helpful.

Reframing with positive thoughts

I was recently following up people by phone who had participated in one of my courses – effectively a coaching session.  I was wondering what was causing me to procrastinate.  I have facilitated hundreds of courses and the people I was ringing were participants on my most recent course and yet I was nervous about the phone activity.  I started to follow the suggested step of naming my emotions and identifying the thoughts that gave rise to them.  The thoughts predominantly related to, “Would I live up to their expectations?”, and “Could I actually provide them with some help with their practice or project?”.  Sometimes, our doubts are not rational, but they persist.

Getting in touch with my feelings and negative thoughts enabled me to move on and actually conduct the phone coaching discussions.  What I found was that by controlling my negative thoughts through mindfulness, I was able to change my mindset and view the phone coaching differently.  I came to appreciate the very positive aspects of this exercise and this helped me to reframe the activity as relationship building.  I found that the participants were actually putting into practice in their workplaces the skills we covered in the course and they were having a positive impact on their workplace and the people in their team (intrinsically rewarding feedback!).

I came to the realisation yet again (somewhat blocked by my current anxiety), that my major role was to listen and ask questions for clarification and understanding (mine and theirs).  The experience then was very reaffirming.  Reframing the activity in positive terms, rather than focusing on possible (but not probable) negative outcomes, freed me up to perform better in the coaching interviews.  However, I have a long way to go to be free of “ego” concerns.

Becoming free of ego concerns

When we revisit our concerns or negative thoughts, we often have in advance of some public activity, we begin to realise how much “ego” is involved.  We are concerned about our image – how we will be viewed or assessed, what impact our performance will have on us or our future, what impression we will make or how embarrassed will we be if we “fail”.

These issues constitute ego concerns.  Tom Cronin (The Stillness Project) in his blog post, How to Find the Confidence to Speak in Front of 300 People, suggests that controlling your ego is a key aspect of gaining that confidence.  The less ego plays in determining how you feel about your forthcoming performance, the better you are able to just be present and appreciate the moment. Your presence and sense of calm can be very effective in helping you access your creative abilities and best performance.  He recommends daily meditation as a way to dissolve the ego and gain peaceful presence, no matter what we are doing:

… meditation plays a HUGE role. In the stillness of meditation we connect with that unbounded state of peaceful presence, beyond the limits of the ego. The work is to put aside time to meditate, and then outside of meditation, to observe the difference between that which is ego and that which is not. 

To remove all ego from our thoughts and activities requires a very advanced state of mindfulness.  As Tom indicates, this is a lifetime pursuit, because ego often gets in the road of our performance and our ability to have a positive impact.  However, we cannot wait until we are cleansed of all ego before we perform.

I have successfully addressed 1,800 people at a World Congress in Cartagena, Colombia in South America.  The topic was on action learning and I was doing the opening address as President of the Action Learning and Action Research Association.  My luggage had not arrived by the start of the Congress, so I had to present in my jeans that I wore on the flight over and a colourful Cartegena t-shirt I bought in the street outside the Congress.

I had to let go of any ego concerns about my standard of dress (the other dignitaries were in suits) if I was to actually get up on the stage.  I think this need and the casualness of my dress helped me in my address – it was particularly well received by the Colombians who were present amongst the representatives from 61 countries.  I certainly had ego concerns but the momentousness of the occasion and the potential contribution of the Congress to global cooperation, helped me to get through and manage my nerves.  But you can see I still have ego concerns that are alive and active when I undertake a relatively simple phone coaching activity (as described above) – lots more meditation to do!!

As we grow in mindfulness, we can clear anticipatory, negative thoughts about our performance, identify and control our emotions and progressively remove our ego concerns.

By Ron Passfield – Copyright (Creative Commons license, Attribution–Non Commercial–No Derivatives)

Image source: courtesy of xusenru on Pixabay

Disclosure: If you purchase a product through this site, I may earn a commission which will help to pay for the site, the associated Meetup group and the resources to support the blog.

Overcoming Nervousness through Mindfulness

Everyone experiences nervousness at some time.  It is part of the human condition.  However, it can be debilitating if you let it control you.  If you use it to your advantage and get in touch with the associated feelings, you can actually come out stronger and perform better.

I want to talk about two things that you can do to get nervousness under control – naming the feelings involved and developing a success anchor.

Naming your feelings

In a previous post, we discussed naming feelings as a way to gain control over them – you may recall Dan Siegel’s dictum, Name It to Tame It.  Nervousness will affect your thinking – your ability to concentrate and your clarity.  It can be felt in the body as agitation, tenseness, shaking, pacing sweating , a dry mouth, shallow breathing or any multitude of other bodily manifestations.

Nervousness can severely impact your performance.  I recall chairing one job interview panel for a managerial position and one of the applicants was so nervous that he had difficulty breathing.  I spontaneously started breathing slowly and heavily and he began to pace me with his own breathing and regained control so that the interview could proceed.

Behind the nervousness can be any number of feelings or a group of feelings, such as hesitant, anxious, doubtful, wary, fearful, uncertain, unsure or uneasy.   There are also expectations by others and our own expectations that can intensify our nervousness and our associated feelings.

Ariarne Titmus, 17-year-old Australian winner of the 400 metres freestyle swimming race at the 2018 Commonwealth Games (Gold Coast, Australia), in a Commonwealth Games record, said that she was nervous before the 800 metres race.  When asked why she had been nervous, she said that it was because of the expectations she placed on herself about the result.  She went on to win by a large margin and broke the Commonwealth Games record again.  So, no one escapes nerves, no matter how good they are.  If you care about how you will perform, whether in a sporting event, job  interview or presentation, you will be nervous.  The challenge is to use the energy of nervousness in a positive way to perform to your best, rather than be crippled by it.

I discussed a meditation on emotions practice in the previous post on naming your feelings.  This can help you manage your nervousness.  The initial mindful breathing step slows down your body and reduces your bodily reaction to nervousness.  The second step of body scan helps you identify and release points of tension in your body.  The third step of naming each feeling helps you to get in touch with each feeling and the expectation set that is influencing your nervousness.  Once you name the feelings that give rise to your nervousness, you will be better able to control them and to keep the impact of your nervousness under control.  You can access the list of feelings to help you name your feelings.

Developing a success anchor

One way to help manage nervousness is to recall when you were successful with a similar event that you are nervous about (or even some other successful activity).  Picture yourself experiencing the success event and the positive feelings associated with this success – confident, delighted, thankful, relaxed, energetic, reassured – and absorb those feelings.  Now recall what you did to make it a success – planning, practice, deep breathing, consultation or another precursor activity.

This anchoring process helps you to move to a more positive mindset, and to remind yourself that you were nervous the last time and that you successfully overcame those nerves.  It also helps you to get in touch with the success strategies you used previously, because when we are nervous we sometimes have difficulty accessing these past successful strategies – we are too tense, agitated or anxious to be able to focus properly on what is required.   Revisiting the positive feelings of success reassures you, too, that you can be successful.

As you grow in mindfulness, you develop self-awareness and are better able to name and tame the feelings giving rise to your nervousness and you can more easily access prior successful experiences and strategies.  This, in turn, builds your self-management capacity.

By Ron Passfield – Copyright (Creative Commons license, Attribution–Non Commercial–No Derivatives)

Image source: courtesy of LoganArt on Pixabay

Disclosure: If you purchase a product through this site, I may earn a commission which will help to pay for the site, the associated Meetup group and the resources to support the blog.