With a little preparation, you can turn your interview anxiety into excitement. [TWEET]
Sweaty palms. Racing heart. Tunnel vision. Shortness of breath.
If this is you, waiting anxiously to walk into an interview, I have good news. You are only one step away from turning your nerves into a powerful ally.
The technical term for what I am about to teach you is cognitive reappraisal, which means intentionally changing the way you think and feel about a stressful situation in your life. It might sound impossible to you now, but there is actually a simple trick (scientifically validated, nonetheless) that can help you turn anxiety into excitement.
Did you know that anxiety and excitement are, on the physiological level, the same emotion?
Whether you are feeling anxious or excited about something, your body responds the same way: “butterflies” in your stomach, accelerated heart rate, restlessness, feverishness, elevated adrenalin. It is up to your mind to interpret those body signals with a positive spin (excitement), or a negative spin (anxiety).
Think of the last time you had that nervous heart-in-your-throat feeling. Did you find the common advice of “taking deep breaths” and “calming yourself down” to be ineffective? That well-meaning advice requires you to wrangle your body into lowering your heart rate and adrenalin levels, while a potentially stressful situation looms on the horizon. However, in order to get excited, you don't need to work against your body. All you need to do is change how your mind interprets your physical symptoms.
Are you ready to practice? Great. Here is an exercise that is based on the work of a researcher and psychologist Alison Wood Brooks of Harvard Business School, and on the SuperBetter work by Jane McGonigal, a senior researcher at the Institute for the Future.
Think about a situation that usually makes you nervous.
Your upcoming job interview is probably a great one to start with, but you can pick any other situation where you would like to experience less stress and more confidence. Public speaking, attending your class reunion or talking to your boss can all be good candidates for this practice. Concentrate on that upcoming experience in your mind, until you can physically feel the butterflies in your stomach.
As soon as you start to feel your nerves kick in, say I'm excited or Get excited to yourself. You might try saying it out loud a few times.
That's it. Nothing else to it. And yet, according to Dr. Brooks' research, that simple exercise has shown to make people less anxious, more optimistic, and more resilient in the face of stressful situations. In Oscar Wilde's words, “Worry is misspent imagination.” When you are not spinning yourself up in a vortex of anxious thinking, your brain capacity is freed up for creative problem solving. That explains why Dr. Brooks' study participants didn't just feel better – they actually performed better.
To those of you shaking your head in disbelief, I am not talking about a mind trick or fooling you into positive thinking. The physical line between anxiety and excitement is truly thin. If your body has a tough time telling the two apart, could it be possible that your brain might also get confused? And if that is the case, then most of the time you are in a position to make an intentional choice between feeling anxious and feeling excited. The most important part of this exercise is being open to the slight possibility that you might be, in fact, just the smallest bit excited that something good could happen.
So, next time you are about to walk into the interviewer's office for the first time, consider leaving the “Keep calm and carry on” motto behind, and try to “Get excited” instead!
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