Overcoming Performance Anxiety!

By | December 17, 2015

We’ve all been there…Big closing, critical presentation, important interview or maybe you’re starting a new job!

Performance anxiety comes in all shapes and sizes and situations or events that might make one person anxious could be effortless child’s play for someone else.

One example…On my wedding day the Rabbi had to give me his handkerchief because the sweat was dripping down my face and it wasn’t a particularly hot day. This reaction certainly doesn’t happen for everyone.

Another example is this short video of the 2013 Long Island Fight For Charity where I was entering the ring for a fight in front of 1,500 people when, I can assure you, boxing is not something that I do every day!

Performance anxiety? Absolutely!

Performance Anxiety For An Attorney Starting A New Job (or anyone starting a new job)!

Now suppose that you beginning a new job and want more than anything to impress the powers that be. Having an edge is good but too much stress or anxiety is most likely bad.

Wrong and Right

From an article at attorneyatwork (a blog well worth subscribing to)…

The Importance of Mindset

One of the reasons for performance anxiety is the mindset you bring into a new situation. Carol Dweck, Heidi Grant Halvorson and other researchers have shown that our in-going mindset has a huge impact in how we anticipate and experience new situations.

Simply put, in new situations people often focus more on performing than learning. Or as Halvorson puts it, we focus more on “being good” than “getting better.”

Obviously you want to do well in your new job, but focusing too much on performing can cause you to approach the initial legal work as if it’s a make-or-break test of your natural skills and abilities. You’ll either succeed spectacularly or fail miserably. No pressure there.

With a performance mindset we also tend to:

  • Focus on rapidly completing new tasks instead of building new relationships. In our haste to accomplish things, we may not take the time to establish the connections that make us successful over the long term.
  • Try too hard to make a great first impression. Striving to be either the smartest or most loyal person in the office often ends up making us look either arrogant or like a suck-up.
  • Be reluctant to ask questions that might make us look bad. Instead, we waste time with endless Internet searches or, worse yet, rely exclusively on our past experience. Most of the time the information we really need to be effective is inside the heads of our officemates.
  • See co-workers as evaluators first, collaborators second. It’s hard to relax when you think you’re being judged all the time.
  • Avoid taking risks and making mistakes. In the heat of the moment, we often convince ourselves the safest way to perform is by not performing at all.

All of that just adds unnecessary pressure that undermines confidence and removes all the fun and excitement of the new role.

The Better Alternative

Fortunately, researchers have found that there is a better way. A simple shift to seeing newsituations as learning opportunities instead of performance tests can reap huge benefits. More specifically, a learning-oriented mindset:

  • Gives you more energy and enthusiasm for your new job. It’s likely that you sought this new role because it could provide you more challenge and growth. Embrace and emphasize the excitement of discovery over the stress of performance, and you should enjoy your new job more.
  • Diverts your attention away from your performance fears. If you’re mentally focused on learning from others, you’ve got less mental “bandwidth” to worry about how you’re doing.
  • Helps reframe mistakes and stumbles as just part of the learning process. You’ll stress over them less if you see mistakes more as helpful feedback than the “big reveal” of your less-than-perfect abilities. 
  • Makes a great first impression. Approaching people as learning opportunities causes you to ask questions and listen intently, which shows deference, respect and humility. These are far more effective at making a good first impression than trying to prove you’re the most successful person in the room.

How to Embrace a Learning Mindset

How can you approach your new job with a learning mindset? Here are a few suggestions:

1. Identify what you want to learn from your new role. What skills do you want to improve? What new knowledge do you want to acquire? How will these help you achieve your career goals? The more you can make these salient and important at work, the more you will focus on learning over performing.

2. Approach others as teachers, not evaluators. Ask yourself what you can learn from others at the firm. Who can help me get up to speed quickly? Connect me with critical resources? Help me make sense of organizational dynamics and politics?

3. See every experience as a learning opportunity. Whether things go well or poorly, reflect on what you learned and how you can do better the next time.

4. Mental rehearsals are almost as good as the real thing. If you’re nervous about an upcoming performance, practice in front of the mirror or in the car on your way to work. Anticipate what might happen and experiment with what you might say or do in response.    

5. Enter new situations thinking “I’m excited” instead of “I am calm.” Harvard researcher Alison Wood Brooks has found this approach helps people enter new performance situations with an opportunity mindset instead of a threat-oriented mindset.

The more you can approach your new position as an exciting learning opportunity instead of an endless “American Idol” performance, the more comfortable, confident and successful you’ll be.

Michael Haltman is President of Hallmark Abstract Service in New York. He can be reached at mhaltman@hallmarkabstractllc.com.

4 thoughts on “Overcoming Performance Anxiety!

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