The Yerkes-Dodson Law says that there is a direct link between performance and arousal. Increased arousal can improve performance, but only up to a point. At the point when arousal becomes excessive, performance diminishes. That’s great, but what does it mean and why do we care?
Well, if the research conducted by Yerkes and Dodson is true, it means that we may be able to figure out the perfect state of arousal (or more accurately from the world as we understand it, a “heightened state” of controlled anxiety) to increase our performance. This is supposed to be true of athletic and non-athletic performance.
We’ve all experienced this heightened state at some point and I’m certain that you’ve noticed when it’s become overwhelming. If you can remember when you took your school exams, that anxious feeling just before you turned the paper is it. Some people can use that feeling to get the task completed whilst others experience too much stress and they crumble under the pressure.
Aside from impacting our performance, stress can cause many health issues and also hair loss in both men and women. Reducing your stress levels can help manage these issues, but that can be easier said than done. It’s certainly not impossible but does require some effort and possible lifestyle changes.
Athletes talk about being “in the zone” right before they compete and that feeling is likely their anxiety being controlled at just the right amount. So how can we control our anxiety and not let it overwhelm us?
1. Knowing What You’re Doing Helps!
It’s no surprise that whatever you’re trying to do, a good knowledge of the subject is going to be vital to your performance. Having said that, it’s not always possible and our minds are great at convincing us that we don’t know anything at all. Reminding yourself of all your qualifications and/or achievements can help you to realize that you have more than enough resources to do what you need to do and this will reduce the anxiety that causes a drop in performance.
Having a certain level of anxiety is a good thing and is supposed to help with performance. It’s natural to be nervous (to a degree) before any kind of performance. It keeps us on our toes and can focus the mind on doing well at the task. It’s that feeling of being pumped, as opposed to being a gibbering wreck and that’s the feeling to aim for.
2. Banish Negative Thoughts!
We, humans, have a terrible habit of always thinking the worst and when it comes to any kind of performance, our imaginations can run wild! I’m sure you can remember a time when you had to do something and you convinced yourself that all sorts of crazy stuff would go wrong. Usually, none of these things happen and everything works out just fine. That’s the thing to remember – More often than not, nothing goes wrong and everything goes to plan.
3. Be In Control!
Being in control of a situation usually helps to combat anxiety. When you’re in control, you’re not relying on other people’s efforts to do what you need to do. If you have to rely on other people, it’s common to have anxiety about what they could do wrong, as well as your doubts.
Doing so obviously magnifies your anxiety and that probably grows the more people are involved. There’s an old saying, “control what you can and let go of what you can’t” and I think there’s a lot of wisdom in that.
4. Get Yourself a Ritual
We’ve all either seen or heard about performers who have some kind of pre-performance ritual. From athletes to rock stars, the one thing the most successful of them share is that they routinely use rituals to get their minds in a peak state. Great motivational speaker Tony Robbins, famously jumps on a small trampoline just before he walks out onto the stage. It’s his way of being energized, or in “the zone”.
5. Don’t Overthink
Ever hear the phrase “we’re our own worst enemy”? It’s 100% true. Humans spend a lot of time sabotaging their endeavors and that nagging voice in your head, is probably responsible for killing more dreams than anything else.
With knowledge and control, should come the ability to trust that we’re more than good enough to perform at the level we’ve chosen, whatever that is. Overthinking a situation will likely result in you doubting your abilities and that starts the anxiety creeping up. Trust yourself!
Breathing purposefully can have a dramatic impact on our levels of anxiety. When we start to go into panic mode, our heartbeat and respiratory system go into fight/flight mode and our body screams for oxygen to deal with one or the other.
Calm, deliberate breathing can quickly bring everything back down to earth and as our body returns to normal, the anxiety starts to melt away. You may have seen athletes, etc. take several deep breaths before they go into action and it’s a proven way of calming everything down quickly.
And Dont Forget to Have Fun
Now I’ll admit, not every situation where we have to perform is going to be fun, but there’s no reason we can’t still find enjoyable moments in the experience. If we’re determined to not only do well but enjoy the experience, not only will we perform better, but others will enjoy it more too. Olympic athletes like to get the crowd behind them by encouraging clapping and participation. This helps the athlete and the spectators get more “into” what’s happening.
The Yerkes-Dodson law shows us that it’s more than OK to feel a bit anxious before we perform in whatever way and that a small amount of anxiety can help us do our best. Things start to go wrong if we allow that anxiety to grow to the point it becomes the main focus of our brains.
Finding that sweet-spot of anxiety is not going to be easy, but with practice, we should be able to achieve a peak state more often.