Athletes do warm-up drills before they hit the court. Musicians run scales and rehearse before performing in front of a crowd. Writers get ideas flowing with prompts and exercises — anything that gets the fingers typing and the words spilling onto the page.
In order to perform at your best, whether it’s giving a big talk, or competing in an athletic event, adequate warm-up is paramount to superior performance.
One of my favorite ways to warm-up for a first date is listen to comedy.
As I'm driving to the venue, listening to something funny eases me into a playful, positive mood.
Comedy gets me smiling, and whether that’s a result of the Louis CK bit I'm listening to, or if it’s forcing a smile to my face while looking in the mirror before work, something as simple as a smile can set you up for success for whatever the ensuing situation calls for.
You think of these as priming techniques.
They're helpful in any scenario that demands the best, most confident version of yourself. As it turns out, priming isn’t just helpful for nailing a job interview or making great first impressions, but they should be a tool at your disposal for everyday life, especially if you’re an anxious person.
How To Deal With Anxiety
1. Do something physical.
In the documentary, I Am Not Your Guru, you’ll see that seconds before walking on stage in front of thousands of people, Tony Robbins will jump up and down on a trampoline backstage. The technique is called rebounding, and in addition to its health benefits on your lymphatic system, the simple act of jumping up and down has a profound energizing effect.
I don’t have space for a trampoline in my apartment, but I’ve found that something as simple as bouncing on the balls of your feet for a minute or two while flailing your arms around works pretty damn well (the flailing is key).
Another effective option for the bold reader is a contrast shower.
Hop into a hot shower, and after thirty seconds change it to absolute cold, then switch back to hot after another thirty seconds. Repeat for a few minutes and this will wake you up like a foghorn.
Contrast showers and jumping up and down on your balls (of your feet) work great, but what works best for me is lifting heavy weights.
The experience of pushing your physiology to its limit and living in that momentary space between failure and one more rep will genuinely feel like your body is being rewired.
When you finish a heavy training session, you'll feel better about the world and yourself, you'll think clearer, and as the beta-endorphins flow, you'll feel better able to put your best step forward in whatever it is you do next.
I started training to improve my physique, but over time I realized that working out had a huge influence on how I think and feel.
Another activity that provides similar cognitive benefits is taking a walk.
I only workout three days per week, but on off days, it’s guaranteed that a long walk is on the schedule. Just like working out, taking a long, leisurely stroll can dust off the mental cobwebs from staring at a computer all morning, and it also puts you in a better mood.
Putting your body on autopilot (all you have to do is walk) frees up mental energy in a way that relieves pressure on the problem-solving machinery, and encourages the flow of thoughts and ideas.
I often have my best ideas and breakthroughs on walks.
Whether you're trying to work through a creative block, or have a problem in your life that you're toiling over, going for a walk can help you think of best solutions in either case.
2. Clean up your speech.
You know that Kurt Vonnegut quote?
"When I write, I feel like an armless, legless man with a crayon in my mouth."
If I didn't get enough sleep the . night before, or have to rush out of the house before i've had time to chug a pot of coffee, I feel like Kurt.
Anxiety, for many people, most pointedly manifests in speech.
If I don't say anything before I leave the house in the morning, the quality of my speech will almost entirely be determined by how I'm feeling that morning. If I'm tired, stressed or anxious about something, the result will be a lazy, marble-mouthed oaf.
I won't greet people well or engage them in conversation effectively. I can't seem to give my words enough oomph or volume for anyone to hear me, as if every word I utter is my last, dying (largely inaudible) breath.
The good news is that in recent years, I've found that a few simple speech exercises can prevent this.
By practicing a few speech techniques for twenty minutes or less, you can prime the machinery (i.e. the noises you make with my face) for better communication throughout my day.
- Your vocal machinery will be engaged
- Your mind will be sharp
- You will have a better economy of words as your disposal
- You'll be in the best possible place for effective communication
If speech exercises aren’t for you, something as easy as reading aloud from a favorite book of an author you like works pretty well, too.
3. Get meditative.
Physical activity wakes up your body, speech exercises improve how you talk, and meditation quiets the mind.
By this point, you’re likely familiar with the benefits of meditation, even if you haven’t tried it yourself.
Twenty minutes of meditation each day can help you focus, and quiet the gremlins of the mind who are trying to sabotage your confidence, your self-worth, and your mental fortitude, and replace them with fear, crippling self-doubt, and anxiety.
If you’re still not convinced that meditation is hugely beneficial, the next best thing would be to engage in meditative activities like:
- Playing a musical instrument
- Going for a walk
- Simply taking a moment to yourself to focus on breathing and observing your thoughts.
- Buy a coloring book
- Play with legos
It doesn't really matter what it is, just that the activity is playful in nature.
4. Pretend life is a simulation.
You can employ this neat trick during my day if you're feeling particularly anxious of frazzled.
All you have to do it pretend life is actually a simulation.
Look it up, it’s called simulation theory.
Really imagine that everything you see is just ones and zeroes embedded in a massive hard drive somewhere in the sky, and you’re just a passenger on the ride. I’ve found that by adopting this mindset, I’m better able to look strangers in the eye, speak freely without worrying about how I come off to the other person, and ultimately shrug off the incessant worries and insecurities I may otherwise have.
After all, you’re probably just a simulation in someone else’s life. By first pretending everything is a simulation, you’re able to let your guard down and feel more at ease in public. The goal is to bridge the gap between simulation and reality by realizing that, when it comes to feelings of self-consciousness and social anxiety, there isn’t really a difference between the two.
Whether life really is a simulation or not, people are mostly concerned with themselves, not what other people are doing or thinking. Which is what you should do.
Anti-Anxiety Techniques Can Help
Just as you warm up for a workout, or run a few scales before learning a new song on your guitar, warming up for your everyday life will help ensure you’re presenting your best self to the world.
Especially if you’re prone to anxiety, but also if you find yourself having more “off” days than usual, these techniques allow you to prime yourself to engage the world as the sharpest, most present version of yourself.
In addition to a healthy diet, which can support healthy balance and production of mood-related neurotransmitters, these techniques are a great way to start your day anxiety-free. Do them often, and I think you’ll be amazed at how well they can excise the gremlins from your mind, and help you engage life from a place of calmness, awareness, and confidence.