Staying cool under performance pressure is a learnable skill. Psychology Today republished an article called, “Confidence: Stepping Out”.
Most socially confident people learn specific skills:
Understand Your Body’s Signals
Six studies compared two groups of people during a hair-raising event such as an impromptu speech: One group said that their bodies were freaking out and another group said they felt calm. In five of the six studies, there was no physiological difference between the two groups. Everyone showed similarly increased levels of autonomic activation, such as sweating and speeding heart rate. “People who are very socially anxious tend to pay attention to their bodies and magnify that response, perceiving it subjectively to be much greater than it actually is,” says James J. Gross, director of Stanford University’s Psychophysiology Laboratory.
You can calm yourself by reading the signals correctly. The irony of misreading your nervous system’s cues is that far from harming you, your natural excitement can enhance your performance. Increased activation is not a sign that you’re failing, but that you want to do well and your body is ready to help.
Focus on Others
When socially confident people start to feel anxious or awkward, they focus on putting their conversational partners at ease. Some people need to work at shedding their constant belief that they’re failing. Yet for most people, fluctuations in self-esteem provide information that’s useful in navigating social relationships. For example, if you’re talking and someone yawns, your self-esteem drops, signaling you to switch the topic. When you tell a joke and people laugh, your self-esteem rockets up. If we didn’t feel bad when we bore or offend—or gratified when we delight—we’d never be motivated to change course.
Mastering social skills requires tuning in to your self-esteem. But instead of being self-conscious and fixating on your anxiety, work on creating positive interactions that make the people around you feel engaged and happy. Focusing less on yourself and more on others will yield big payoffs in expanded social opportunities.
Immerse Yourself in Your Fears
The article told stories about how Conan O’Brien and Will Farrell forced themselves to do the things they feared the most. Then they figured out how to challenge and transform themselves. The lesson? Even exquisite discomfort has a silver lining.