The Physiology of Performance

The Physiology of Performance: A Critical Dynamic for Social Anxiety Control

Most people’s adrenaline flow increases before a “performance”—which can be anything from a conversation to a full-scale speech in front of an audience of hundreds, thousands, or more. How a person handles that adrenaline is the only difference between feeling anxiety and “going with the flow.”
For me, the adrenaline flow means, “Ready! Set! Go!” I don’t interpret the feelings as negative—trouble swallowing on a few high-stress occasions, cold hands, and so on. They’re not scary, but just a reminder to focus and remember that adrenaline is my friend.
To promote my message that people can live happier, more productive lives by freeing themselves from anxiety, I have appeared on more than 1,500 radio and television shows in the last 20 years or so. I love doing shows that reach a large audience because of what I can teach and the great public relations and marketing opportunities they give me. I still feel stress. The difference is, I have trained my body and mind to kick into “control” mode using these techniques. It’s almost automatic, and it takes only seconds. Once, I was beginning a three-minute live segment on Fox television. The producer was in the process of counting down “5…4…3…2…1… and Live!” On the number four I had difficulty swallowing due to stress (not a good thing to have when you are about to speak to an audience). But by the number one and the exciting call of “Live!” I was ready to go, having utilized the same Five-Step Adrenaline Control Technique you will learn.
On another occasion, I was waiting by the phone for famed “shock jock” Howard Stern to call and interview me live for a radio show about “involuntary virginity.” (The perfect subject for Howard, don’t you think?) This was a big deal for me—and I had told about 1,000 people I would be on. As I waited, I felt a lot of anticipatory energy and the same swallowing challenge I had right before the Fox interview. I used my technique, and used it, and used it… But alas, Howard blew me off for “the biggest rubber band ball in the world” and a hermaphrodite. My call never came. Such is the nature of show biz!

These two experiences characterize the physiology of performance. When you understand it, and learn to control it, the result will be high performance and more potential for confidence and success. When you do not understand the physiology of performance, there is more of a chance that adrenaline will control you instead of you controlling the adrenaline!

Why discuss public speaking? Because public speaking is the number one fear (behind even death!), It is also—according to self-made multibillionaire Warren Buffett—“the number one business skill.” At its most essential, the definition in this program is that public speaking occurs anytime you are the only one talking. In this context, public speaking means speaking in or to a group—and a “group” is defined as more than one person. Public speaking is therefore not limited to making a speech or presentation. It also means speaking spontaneously around the conference table or in another meeting, participating in a conference call, standing up to ask a question during a presentation, and even informal chatting around the water cooler. Think of it as “speaking up.” Public speaking is not the only workplace stressor that makes people nervous at work, but its broad definition encompasses many of the specific anxiety triggers in the workplace. Addressing nervousness at work is critical because, as one business reporter put it, “In today’s workplace, there is no room for the shy.”
Nor is there room for nervousness on the job market. If professional, comfortable interaction and a certain level of confidence are absent, job interviews are liable to go poorly. Networking opportunities are left unexplored. Instead, many people who are nervous at work hope in vain that a job search Web site will hand-deliver their résumés to dream employers—or in a lot of cases these days, to any employer at all. But sitting in front of the computer—avoiding true human interaction—will not land you a job. A very small percentage of hiring occurs through advertisements. To excel, you have to sell yourself, make connections, ask for favors, follow up, and keep following up, all of which are almost impossible to do while sitting at home by yourself in front of a computer screen.
Of course, anxiety about “speaking up” is not the only thing that makes people nervous at work. Ask 50 people (and we did! [see sidebar]) and they may well give you 50 different answers for “What makes you nervous at work?”
We began the book “Work Makes Me Nervous” just before the economy collapsed in 2008. As job losses soared into the hundreds of thousands, I heard from more and more people whose anxiety was through the roof because a perceived lack of job security. It’s a reasonable thing to fear—even people without an anxiety problem feel anxious about the circumstances. But it is reality, and coping with it can mean the difference between keeping that job and being among those who are laid off and not merely reassigned. According to New York Newsday, “Losing your job is painful, but worrying about losing the job you have may be even more harmful to your health. Researchers at the University of Michigan concluded that ‘chronically high job insecurity is more strongly linked with health declines than actual job loss or unemployment.’ The study also found that job security is more strongly linked with health declines than actual job loss or unemployment.”

50 Workplace Anxiety Triggers…What Are Yours?
“Speaking up during a meeting”
“Answering my phone without knowing who’s calling”
“Learning new skills”
“Introducing a guest speaker”
“Making a presentation”
“Giving a speech to an audience of strangers”
“Giving a speech to an audience that includes people I know”
“Being interviewed for a job”
“Making the follow-up phone call about a job interview”
“Technology”
“Making small talk”
“When my boss asks to meet with me”
“Having to talk during a conference call”
“Being seen on a webcam”
“Knowing I’m going to miss a deadline and not saying anything”
“Using a microphone”
“Meeting with people outside my division”
“When other people get credit for my work”
“Attending company social events”
“Traveling with colleagues”
“Forgetting something”
“Asking a question”
“When someone asks me a question”
“Making an appointment then realizing I am double-booked”
“Interacting with colleagues of the opposite sex”
“Doing team projects”
“Giving feedback to my employees”
“Asking for help within earshot of my supervisor”
“Seeing people who know I interviewed for a job I didn’t get”
“Arriving late”
“Being dressed too casually or too formally”
“That my co-workers will find out I’m gay”
“Covering the receptionist’s duties during lunch break”
“Team-building exercises”
“Passing the company president in the hallway”
“Introducing myself”
“When something happens that makes me think my talents aren’t valued”
“When I fail to meet a project goal”
“Remembering people’s names”
“People I don’t like but have to ask for something”
“Eating with my colleagues—I’m afraid I’ll look like a slob”
“When colleagues discuss personal subjects such as religion or politics”
“Writing—e-mails, memos, reports, anything!”
“Using the public restroom when others are in there”
“Delegating tasks to other people”
“Being singled out in a crowd”
“Suggesting a solution and having someone explain why it’s wrong”
“Being in situations where I have to sign my name or write anything in front of people”
“Being attracted to a fellow employee”

In 1988, 10 years into my clinical practice, I hired my first public relations firm. I did so out of the desire to provide community education about social anxiety and the related issues with which I was working. The timing obviously was right. Three months into the public relations effort, I was booked on the Oprah Winfrey Show. Oprah was relatively new to the TV airwaves at the time, but it was still a very big deal to appear on her show. From 1988 to now, I have done well over 1,500 television and radio shows, countless newspaper and magazine interviews, and many lectures. I have experienced the good, the bad, and the ugly of working the media. Public speaking has very much been a key to my career success. I have learned to be productive with the art and science of public speaking and high performance at work. As I’ve described, I use the same adrenaline-channeling techniques as I will teach you. And they work. They work for me, and they work for thousands of other people whose anxiety once crippled them. Giving my opinion without knowing what other people think”

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