Imagine you’re about to deliver a big presentation, or sit an important test. Even if you’re well prepared, the chances are you’d be feeling stressed. The vast majority of people (over 90%) believe that the best approach in that kind of stressful situation, is to try to calm down. Not easy! And as it turns out, not very helpful either.
Research carried out at Harvard measured performance in 3 stressful tasks: Singing in front of a stranger, giving a short talk (the dreaded public speaking!), and a maths test. In all 3, the participants were split into 3 groups – one asked to say “I’m calm”, a control group asked to say nothing, and a group asked to say “I’m excited”. Nothing more – just to say it.
In all three tests, the ‘calm’ group performed worse than the control group, and the excited group performed the best – even though saying they were excited didn’t reduce how anxious they also felt.