I first used this “reframing strategy” as a public speaker. I get a lot of questions about public speaking and specifically how did I get over my fears and nerves about public speaking. My answer always surprises people: I have never gotten over my fears and nerves; I just use them to my advantage. I speak for a living. A lot. In 2016, I was named the most-booked female speaker in America—98 keynotes in one year. Amazing.
Do I get nervous? Absolutely. Every single time. But here’s the trick: I don’t call it “nerves.” I call it “excitement” because physiologically anxiety and excitement are the exact same thing. Let me say that again. Fear and excitement are the exact same thing in your body. The only difference between excitement and anxiety is what your mind calls it. Like the “near miss” example.
If your brain has a good explanation for why your body is freaking out, it won’t escalate things. The first time I ever really gave a legitimate speech was that TEDx Talk in San Francisco. I remember standing backstage listening to one PhD after another PhD give their talks, thinking to myself, “This is the dumbest thing I’ve ever gotten myself into.
I am going to sound like a complete moron compared to these smart people.” My palms were sweaty. My heart was racing. My face was hot. My armpits were dripping like Niagara Falls. My body was preparing for ACTION! It was getting ready to do something. But I told myself that I was nervous. I labeled all those sensations as a sign that something bad was about to happen and the nerves got worse. Want to know something wild? Six years and hundreds of speeches later…I still feel the EXACT same things in my body back stage.
My palms sweat. My heart races. My face gets hot. My arm pits start dripping. Physiologically, I’m in a state of arousal. I’m about to go into ACTION and my body is getting ready. I feel the exact same thing as fear, I just channel it in a positive direction. The more speeches I give, the more comfortable and confident I became about what I was saying, but as I gained confidence in my ability I noticed that the feelings in my body didn’t disappear.
That’s when it dawned on me that maybe this was just my body’s way to get ready to do something cool. So, I started telling myself that I was getting excited; instead of calling it nervousness. Say You’re Excited I never knew my “trick” had some serious science behind it. It’s called “anxiety reappraisal.” Reframing your anxiety as excitement really works. It is as simple as it is powerful. Harvard Business School professor Alison Wood Brooks has conducted study after study to prove that it not only works to lower anxiety—it actually makes you perform better in math tests, speaking, and so forth!