Let’s face it. For many of us the anticipatory anxiety we experience about a looming presentation, keynote or sales pitch can be equal to, if not more stressful than the event itself. And in this age of aspirational “You must fail in order to succeed!” mantras, it can get downright discouraging to stand in the hot flames of anticipation and not jump back and shout, “I quit!”
Once, when I was struggling with a theater monologue – in a spiral of mental blankness, the director stopped the rehearsal and said, “The only way around this is through it…you have to EMBRACE THE SUCKINESS!” Crass, but funny and true!
My client experience is that no one, no matter how senior or successful, (OK, Tony Robbins is NOT my client) avoids the anticipatory worry and the commensurate human desire to avoid discomfort. The spectrum of anxiety is long and deep and I have worked with clients who move through this with fewer bumps, and others who have stood gasping in a corner before delivering (happily) with aplomb. Here are some of my thoughts on how to go through and not around this anticipatory anxiety.
EMBRACE THE SUCKINESS
Stop Being Surprised. In the book, Anxious Kids, Anxious Parents, one of the central tenets is that we have to expect worry, because it’s normal, common and can be helpful. When it hits us like a ton of bricks and we feel unprepared and overwhelmed, it’s because our own historic strategies to avoid “dismiss, demean and remove anxiety” will always fail us. So, start by remembering, you’ve been here before and it’s time to face this with a new lens.
Actively Address the Anxiety. Anxiety grips our guts and holds us in a frozen state of paralysis. It often leads to isolation and a time-sucking zone where nothing gets done. Breaking the hold means actively talking to trusted friends and advisors. Listen to words of wisdom (I recommend Pema Chodron). Get out of your head. Remember: thinking does not solve anxiety!
Learn to Calm your Worry Center. “Fear Makes the Wolf Look Bigger.” This German proverb captures how fear distorts objective reality and makes us hyper focus on the negative. We over generalize, we magnify, we engage in all-or-nothing thinking. We forget our past successes. In her book, In the Spotlight, Janet Esposito recommends active self-talk to create safety, calm and comfort. “ I am willing to be uncomfortable.” “ I can handle whatever happens.”, “Let me ask for feedback and help.” Force yourself to play new tapes.
Bury The Perfectionist. The higher the perceived stakes, the more we overthink and worry. Perfectionism inhibits achievement and undercuts resiliency. It’s ironic that we can utterly derail ourselves with our very human desire to simply do our very best. Perfectionism weakens our capacities, our achievements and our ability to participate fully in the world. Fight the fantasy of unrealistic pressure and expectations.
In theory, I am all for change and growth and continuous improvement…when it comes to others. I fully support the notion that embracing the discomfort, frustration and even failures leads to growth. I am amazed by the courage I witness in my clients. But when I am really honest, I know how much I deeply resist, dislike, and avoid anything that causes me discomfort. I know better, and yet, my goal is to get more comfortable with being uncomfortable and to more gracefully embrace the suckiness. Build resilience!
With Thanks and Giving,
P.S I came up with this blog post title last week. Imagine my surprise when I subsequently attended a concert produced by Sally Taylor who introduced her mother, Carly Simon, to the stage! Here is my bootleg photo of their family (including brother Ben) singing “ANTICIPATION.” Isn’t that a heavenly connection?