Tag Archives: self-talk

Are You Excited Yet? Anxiety as Positive “Excitement” to Improve Performance

Alison Wood Brooks

Alison Wood Brooks

People can improve task performance in public speaking, mathematical problem solving, and karaoke singing, by reappraising anxiety as “excitement,” according to Harvard’s Alison Wood Brooks.

Using silent self-talk messages (“I am excited”) or reading self-direction messages (“Get excited!”) fosters an “opportunity mind-set” by increasing “congruence” between physical arousal and situational appraisal.

Jeremy Jamieson

“Excitement” is typically viewed as a positive, pleasant emotion that can improve performance, according to Harvard’s Jeremy Jamieson and colleagues, whereas anxiety drains working memory capacity, and decreases self-confidence, self-efficacy, and performance before or during a task, according to Michael W. Eysenck of University of London.

Despite these differences in emotional experience, anxiety and excitement have similar physiological arousal profiles, but different effects on performance.

Michael Eysenck

Trying to transform anxiety into calmness is usually ineffective due to the large shift from negative emotion to neutral or positive emotion and from physiological activation to low arousal levels, noted Brooks.

Stefan Hofmann

Stefan Hofmann

Such efforts to calm physiological arousal during anxiety can result in a paradoxical increase in the suppressed emotion, reported Stefan Hofmann of Boston University and colleagues.
However, most people in Woods’ studies inaccurately believed that this is the best way to handle anxiety.

Stanley Schachter

Stanley Schachter

These similarities and differences can lead to confusing the two experiences, demonstrated in much-cited studies by Columbia’s Stanley Schacter and Jerome Singer of SUNY.
Anxiety’s similarity to excitement can be used to advantage by intentionally relabeling uncomfortably high “anxiety” as pleasant excitement to reduce anxiety’s negative impact on performance.

Jerome Singer

Jerome Singer

Brooks provoked anxiety by telling volunteers that they would present an impromptu, videotaped speech.

For some participants, she reduced anxiety by mentioning that it is “normal” to feel discomfort and asked them to “take a realistic perspective on this task, by recognizing that there is no reason to feel anxiousand “the situation does not present a threat to you…there are no negative consequences to be concerned with.”
She also told volunteers to say aloud randomly-assigned self-statements like “I am excited.”

People who stated I am excitedbefore their speech were rated as more persuasive, more competent more confident, and more persistent (spoke longer), than participants who said “I am calm.”

Brooks evaluated peoples’ reactions to another anxiety-provoking task, performing a karaoke song for an audience, and rated by program’s voice recognition software for “singing accuracy” based on:

  • Volume (quiet-loud),
  • Pitch (distance from true pitch),
  • Note duration (accuracy of breaks between notes).

This score determined participants’ payment for participating in the study.

Before performing, she asked participants to make a randomly-assigned self-statement:

  • “I am anxious,”
  • “I am excited,”
  • “I am calm,”
  • “I am angry.”
  • “I am sad.”
  • No statement.

Following their performance, volunteers rated their anxiety, excitement, and confidence in their singing ability.
People who said that they were “excited” had higher pulse rates than other groups, confirming that self-statements can affect physical experiences of emotion.

In addition, volunteers who said “I am excited” has the highest scores for singing accuracy and also for “singing self-efficacy”, a measure of confidence in ability.

In contrast, those who said, “I am anxious” had the lowest scores for singing accuracy, suggesting that focus on anxiety is associated with lower performance.

Brooks elicited anxiety on “a very difficult IQ test…under time pressure” that would determine their payment for participation.
To evoke further anxiety, she concluded, “Good luck minimizing your loss.”

Before the test, participants read a statement:

  • “Try to remain calm” or
  • “Try to get excited.”

Those instructed to “get excited” produced more correct answers than those who tried to “remain calm.”

Reappraising anxiety as “excitement” increased the subjective experience of “excitement” instead of anxiety, and improved subsequent performance in each of these tasks.

Reappraisal as “excitement” is congruent with physiological arousal common to both anxiety and excitement, so volunteers were more likely to agree with this characterization than with the arousal incongruent” description of calmness.

Stéphane Côté

Stéphane Côté

Arousal-congruent reappraisals primed an “opportunity mind-set” and a stress-is-enhancing mind-set, found University of Toronto’s Stéphane Côté and Christopher Miners.
These appraisals enabled superior performance across different anxiety-arousing situations.

In contrast, inauthentic emotional displays can be physically and psychologically demanding, and tend to reduce performance.

People have “profound control and influence …over our own emotions,” according to Woods, who concluded that “Saying “I am excited” represents a simple, minimal intervention…to prime an opportunity mind-set and improve performance…

Advising employees to say “I am excited” before important performance tasks or simply encouraging them to “get excited” may increase their confidence, improve performance, and boost beliefs in their ability to perform well in the future.”

 -*How effective have you found focusing on “excitement” instead of “calm” in managing anxiety?

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Interrogative Self-Talk Enhance Performance More Than Self-Bolstering Pep Talks

-*Do affirmative self-statements actually help people perform better?

Joanne Wood

Joanne Wood

It depends, found University of Waterloo’s Joanne Wood  and John W. Lee with Wei Qi “Elaine” (Xun) Perunovic of University of New Brunswick confirmed that  people often use positive self-statements and believe them to be effective.

However, two experiments demonstrate that the value of positive self-statements depends on the individual’s level of self-esteem.

Participants with low self-esteem who repeated a positive self-statement (“I’m a lovable person”) felt worse than people who used no positive self-statement.
They also felt worse than the comparison group when they focused on how the statement was only true.

William Swann

William Swann

Wood’s teamed referred to William Swann’s Self-Verification Theory, which suggests that people prefer that others see them as they see themselves as an explanation of these results.

Swann, of University of Texas at Austin posited that if someone has low self-esteem, a positive self-statement is inconsistent with the person’s experience and self-assessment.
As a result, it would not have “the ring of truth”, and would not have the intended bolstering effect on self-confidence and self-esteem.

This view was validated when participants with high self-esteem felt better when they repeated the positive self-statement statement and when they focused on how it was true.

Ibrahim Senay

Ibrahim Senay

Ibrahim Senay of Istanbul Sehir Universitesi, Penn’s Dolores Albarracin, and Kenji Noguchi of the University of Southern Mississippi investigated the relative impact of “declarative” self-talk, such as “positive thinking” or affirmations (“I will prevail!”) espoused by Maxwell Maltz, Norman Vincent Peale, Napoleon Hill, Dale Carnegie, and Anthony Robbins.
They compared this well-known self-improvement practice with “interrogative” self-talk, such as introspective self-inquiry (“Can I prevail?”).

Dolores Albarracín

Dolores Albarracín

Half the participants spent one minute asking themselves whether they would complete a series of anagrams before that actually began to work on the anagrams, whereas the other half to told themselves that they would complete the task.
Surprisingly to advocates of self-affirmation, the self-questioning group solved significantly more anagrams than the self-affirming group.

Kenji Noguchi

Kenji Noguchi

The researchers extended and replicated the finding by asking one group of volunteers to write “Will I” 20 times before attempting to solve the anagrams.
Another group wrote “I will” 20 times, and the third group wrote “Will” 20 times.
Those were “primed” with the self-questioning “Will I” solved nearly twice as many anagrams as people in the other groups.

Ibrahim Senay-Dolores Albarracín-Kenji Noguchi diagramAlbarracin suggested that “asking questions forces you to define if you really want something…even in the presence of obstacles,” so is more effective than possibly unrealistically-positive self-affirmations.
The researchers suggest that interrogative self-talk, like interrogative discussions in behavioral counseling, persuasive messages in advertising, editorials, or legal settings, and culturally “polite” behavioral requests, may elicit more intrinsically-motivated action and goal-directed behavior.

Mark Lepper

Mark Lepper

Routinely predictable extrinsic rewards can extinguish intrinsic motivation, found Stanford’s Mark Lepper and David Greene collaborated with Richard Nisbett of University of Michigan.

Richard Nisbett

Richard Nisbett

In fact, interrogative self-talk may counteract suppressors to intrinsic motivation and seems to be a learnable practice that may be transferred or “generalized” from individualized learning in counseling settings.

 

Robert Burnkrant

Robert Burnkrant

This form of inquiry can be persuasive because it focuses the listener’s attention to the argument itself if the question isn’t especially relevant to the listener, or to the message’s source if is more pertinent, reported Rohini Ahluwalia of University of Minnesota, Ohio State’s Robert Burnkrant, and Southern Methodist University’s Daniel Howard.

Min Basadur

Min Basadur

Subjunctive interrogative self-talk, rather than its rhetorical counterpart, can ignite innovation and creativity in organizational settings.
Min Basadur suggested that asking oneself and other How Might We (HMW) ….? enables innovators to defer judgment and  create more options without self-conscious limitations.

Tim Brown

Tim Brown

Embracing the uncertainty of “might” enables innovators to propose ideas “that might work or might not — either way, it’s OK. And the ‘we’ part says we’re going to do it together and build on each other’s ideas,” said Ideo’s CEO, Tim Brown.

This type of self-interrogatory, sometimes presented in group innovation “sprints” at Google Ventures, IDEO, Frog Design or other thought-leading organizations has been effectively been combined with structured innovative problem-solving:  

  • Understand by analyzing problems and requirements through process evaluation,
  • Diverge by applying constraints to “think differently,”
  • Decide by selecting solution to develop,
  • Prototype by “storyboarding” the user experience, process, obstacles,
  • Validate by testing prototypes with potential solution users.

-*Under what circumstances have you found ‘interrogative’ self-talk to enhance performance more than affirmative self-talk?

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