You build up the confidence to go over and talk to the attractive stranger. You have thought of something interesting to say and you stroll by. Suddenly a fleeting expression on the strangers face causes your confidence to shake. You no longer feel your opening remark is nearly as witty or interesting as it had been.
By the time you get across to the stranger your mouth opens and you manage to force out what you were going to say. You immediately begin imagining the stranger frowning at you, turning away, maybe even laughing. Your stomach tightens and palms sweat. Why does your mind have to focus on the worst possible outcome in a time when you need it least?
Our emotions tend to reflect very recent and current experiences far more strongly than those that occurred in our past. Although this undoubtedly helps our survival, keeping us keenly aware of our surroundings, when those experiences are negative our temporary confidence may get wildly distorted from reality.
Certainly our friend in the introduction has come and said something to strangers before and it has gone well. But somehow those experiences of success are far from the mind when involved in the act. If this person could have summoned up an experience when things went well, that nervousness may have lessened considerably.
Whether it is delivering a speech, building the enthusiasm to go to the gym or heading off to write an exam, having the right emotional state is critical. When I deliver speeches, although there is always the tinge of nervousness that keeps me sharp, I can stay confident and deliver to the best of my abilities. When I write tests I always enter with a calm state of anticipation and readiness. This mild alertness keeps me focused and attentive but also relaxed and clear headed.
You probably have areas in your own life where you are able to maintain that state of relaxed concentration. Chances are the areas you navigate with ease others may find terrifying. Places where, concentration is acute but their mind focuses not on what they are doing but fears possible outcomes.
What separates you from these people? The answer is really based upon what you are focusing on before you start. When I deliver a speech, I may feel nervous, but my mind is reassured by images of speeches going well. When I write an exam, I imagine other times when writing those exams has gone well.
The problem for many people is that the images of events going well are overpowered by images (real or imaginary) of it not going well. This stops the brain from focusing on performance and instead on the outcome of the task at hand. If our friend had focused on interaction with the stranger instead of possible outcomes, nervousness wouldn’t occur.
The best solution, of course, is to simply gather up enough positive experiences so that you have natural confidence, the kind I wrote about in this article. Competence combined with a healthy belief system and basic emotional control techniques creates a natural confidence that doesn’t need to be forced.
Unfortunately, in order to build that natural confidence you need to gain experience. And how can you gain experience when your mind can’t focus on the task at hand? The solution is to temporarily prime your mind with a positive memory and emotion to give you a few minutes of reassurance.
Just like you prime a pump to get water to flow from it, priming your mind ensures that action will flow. This process can’t be a substitute for natural confidence, but it can give you a bit of reassurance in those peak performance situations where you need to take action.
To start you need to create an anchor moment. Physical anchors are a term used in NLP to link a certain body gesture to an emotional state. This process is going to be similar except you are going to take a memory or experience and reinforce it so that you can use it before entering a high-stress situation.
Finding Your Anchor
Start by sitting back and thinking to yourself of any moments where you felt especially confident, successful or powerful. The best moments to pick are those that are the most closely related to your troubling situation. If you are having difficulty speaking in front of an audience, choose a time where you performed well speaking, or even conversing with friends. The closer your memory matches the success you are desiring the better.
Coming up with these moments may be a little difficult and it certainly requires some imagination. If you already had a perfect moment of success then you wouldn’t need to go through this process, you would already have it anchored. This process is to uncover those moments that you have either forgotten, or emphasize them in a way that creates the feelings you want.
Write down on a piece of paper all the memories or experiences you have had where you had the emotion you are looking for. Maybe that time was one of strong confidence, cool enthusiasm or when you were completely involved at the task at hand. Brainstorm a list of these moments.
The next step is to pick out the experiences that closely mirror the context of the situation you are facing. If you want to build motivation to go to the gym, pick experiences that reflect motivation to do a physical activity rather than motivation when doing your taxes. The closer your emotion fits the context of your upcoming situation, the more powerful it will be.
The final step is to clearly visualize this moment in your head. Rehearse the memory vividly and emphasize all the points of the memory that create the emotion. If you are remembering a time when you delivered an impromptu speech well, focus on all the details that made you feel it went well. The laughter and applause of the audience. The calm, meaningful and expressive body language you possessed. The sights, sounds, smells and feelings.
Few memories in life are completely pure. They all have some attributes of negativity, some of positivity. Your goal is to rehearse this visualization, amplifying those positive tones and ignoring or downplaying the negative ones. Keep rehearsing it until every time you think of the moment you are filled with the exact feeling you are looking for, whether it is confidence, motivation or enthusiasm.
With this moment anchored, the next time you get into a situation where you need to perform, quickly rehearse your visualization. Inject whatever emotion you decided upon into yourself and get ready to go ahead. Because you have already rehearsed it so many times before it may take less than a second or two to recall it and invoke the emotions you need.
I have found that the mindset to which you approach a task makes a huge difference in your results. When I go to speak and I’m feeling happy, care-free and enthusiastic, all my speeches seem to go fairly well, and if I stumble I quickly recover. But if I go in feeling nervous or worried about the outcome, I can’t seem to do well despite my best efforts.
Visual and mental rehearsal of upcoming events can work great, but there is one problem. What happens when your visualization doesn’t match reality. Sure, delivering a speech you might know beforehand where you will be speaking and to whom, but if the situation is spontaneous, you don’t have time to rehearse it going well. By using anchor moments you are using a visualization you’ve already rehearsed. This way it can be rapidly conjured up whenever you need a temporary boost.
Anchor moments cannot give you total confidence, all they can do is stack the emotional deck in your favor. They feel more natural because they reflect an experience you’ve already had. When you approach your situation, you will already embody the emotion you need to succeed.