Years ago I wrote an article about performance anxiety. I talked about the Yerkes-Dodson curve, which is a chart that shows that as anxiety increases, performance increases also. But this only goes to a certain point. After it crosses a certain level it actually hurts performance.
The Yerkes-Dodson curve helps us understand performance and the relationship to arousal and anxiety. The interesting point is that arousal or anxiety can either boost or hinder performance.
This makes a lot of sense. If we are preparing to take a test for school that doesn’t count, we probably don’t have much arousal or anxiety. If the test counts we probably feel a little more anxious about the test and will likely score a little higher than if it didn’t count.
But if we are so nervous that it is clouding our thinking and we get that fight or flight response going on, it will likely disrupt our performance. In this case once it gets to an extreme level it will naturally cause some disturbance in our ability to concentrate on the right answer.
I have been studying elite teams recently and am finding that they rely on similar principles. These principles help them stay focused and work hard but you can also see how these things could control their anxiety level. The three biggest and most common principles that I keep reading when studying elite military units, successful small businesses or national championship football teams is (1) preparation, (2) taking ownership and (3) focusing on doing it for a bigger purpose.
Preparation is key to performance. It allows us to be ready to react and physically able to do the things necessary to gain an advantage. But it also helps us calm our nerves. When we know that we did everything that we could to prepare, we feel a little more confident.
Many times when you hear about elite teams you hear those on the team talk about brotherhood. They talk about doing it for the person next to them. They talk about the motivation because they don’t want to let their team down. This shifts the focus a little and can help calm us. We aren’t just doing it for us; we have to do it for someone else. In return we know that they would do it for us. They have our back.
The last aspect is about taking ownership. Getting rid of excuses helps us to see our mistakes and make improvements. We can’t improve if we always shift blame to others. We can only improve when we take responsibility and then take steps to improve. This helps from a performance anxiety standpoint because we aren’t constantly worried about how to explain our actions. We can build this directly into the culture so everyone understands that we take responsibility for our actions and then we put steps in place to improve. We don’t look to place blame on others.
But these principles are helpful even when we are not on an elite team. We can start to be more prepared for the situation, we can do it for a higher purpose (our family, those that need help, God, etc.), and we can take ownership of our situation. Focus on improving in these three areas and you can better perform during anxious times and achieve difficult goals.