It’s 2012, many people have made new
resolutions goals for the year ahead. Some of these inevitably revolve around communication- ‘I’m going to network more’, ‘I’m going open up more at work’, ‘I’m going to close more sales‘, ‘I am going to get that promotion’ – you get the idea. And so we start with great enthusiasm and gusto but then we realise why those same goals never amounted to much last year.
The reason why you haven’t taken to networking or sharing yourself at work is that it doesn’t ever quite go as you planned. You have no problem when you talk to friends or are in familiar situations, however, in a new and important situation you find yourself lost for words. When normally you are calm and composed, but in front of an interview panel or meeting someone you admire and look up to for the first time, you find yourself saying jumbled up sentences and coming across as a blathering wreck.
What is happening you wonder? A bit of brain science but I will keep it nice and simple:
The amygdala in your brain is critical in scanning for danger so when it perceives a threat it gets into action- very quickly. It triggers the ‘fight or flight’ response which shuts down your cortex, which controls a lot of the higher processes of thinking and analysing to allow our instincts to take over (e.g. to step back from a fast approaching car). The reason why speaking in public or sharing yourself triggers your ‘fight or flight’ response is because we still have primitive templates in the brain which tell us that to ‘stand out from the crowd’ is dangerous. Thousands of years ago, to be expelled from a group meant death – we are programmed to ‘stay together’. This is also why our minds turn to mush and we can’t seem to ‘think straight’. The normal approach of telling yourself to calm down and tell you that the danger isnot real doesn’t work because in the battle of the cortex and amygdala, the amygdala is designed to win.
Something very similar happens when we are in the initial stages of love, as our amygdala also controls positive emotions. Whenever the object of our affection approaches our amygdala takes over and the higher thinking processes shut down. You are trying hard to impress, say something witty but instead it’s a car crash. Then to top it all off, you are trying to survive the situation and remove any feelings of embarrassment, you want to run away but you aren’t thinking straight. Confusion sets in- ‘do I really like them? Maybe I don’t? Oh, I don’t know anymore!’ Suddenly, you hear yourself saying ‘Hey, I think I love you!’
So whether it’s communication in your personal or professional life, here are a few things you can do:
Breathe: not just any old breathing – the out-breath should be longer than the in-breath, as it is the out-breath that stimulates the parasympathetic system i.e. your relaxation response. Try counting in to 7 and out to 11, or in to 5 and out to 8 – whatever feels comfortable. And breathe deep, from the diaphragm, not from the upper part of the chest.
Muscle tension/release exercises: try clenching your fists; hold them tight for a minute or so; then slowly release. This works on the principle that muscles cannot be tensed and relaxed at the same time – it is physically impossible. We tend to ‘tighten up’ when we get nervous, so this is a way of relaxing muscle groups.
Prepare: your amygdala tries to protect you from things you find threatening, one way to reduce the fear of the unknown is to prepare and practice. But make your practicing count by gently exposing yourself to slightly more uncomfortable situations, e.g. if you want to network more go to a small meet up and talk to one new person and gradually build up. If you want to try your luck at love, take the anxiety out of it and play a game simply to talk to people you find attractive. Your brain will gradually build up a pattern that doesn’t trigger the same levels of anxiety as it used to and if you develop a new pattern that is strong enough this will over-ride the old one.
Do you have any top tips that you use in nerve-racking situations? Does anyone have similar goals as described above and can I help you? Please post in the comments below.