I don’t buy into life hacks. Anything worth doing can’t be hacked, and anything you can hack usually isn’t worth doing. Or it’s a trick to sell you something.
But, there are a few legitimate life hacks, and this is one of them. It’s a way to immediately cure anxiety, impostor syndrome, fear, stage fright, and other negative emotions brought on by some form of public performance.
I’m not sure where I first learned this, but I didn’t come up with it. I’ve seen it mentioned time and again by ancient philosophers as well as modern public speaking coaches. I don’t claim credit for it, but you should definitely know how it impacts your behavior.
First, let’s understand where that feeling of performance anxiety comes from.
Emotions have two pieces: their physiological component, or how your physical body reacts, and their psychological component, or what goes through your mind. We know quite well that your body drives the psychological response in your conscious mind, you don’t think “Oh god I’m nervous” and then have a physical response, you have a physical response and then your mind says “My body is doing that nervous thing, I must be nervous!”
This can become a problem because our minds aren’t great at interpreting our bodies’ signals. One classic one is we can be dehydrated, but misinterpret that as hunger or a desire for sugar. That’s why water can be such a good deterrent for overeating. Another lesser known one is that the physiological signals for flight and fight are almost exactly the same, and our mind more or less picks one arbitrarily based on the perceived threat.
Here’s how that works. You perceive some threat, like a large audience in front of you, or thousands of people who could give you bad reviews on Amazon. Your body starts exhibiting all of the physiological responses to that perceived threat; in this case, elevated heart rate, increased adrenaline, sweating, pupil dilating, everything you need to either run away or beat someone up.
This is where your mind messes everything up though. In most cases, your mind will take all of these physiological signals and go “Oh shit we better get OUT OF HERE” and you’ll get the performance anxiety/stage fright that you might be used to. But here’s where the life hack comes in: simply by noticing that state change and telling yourself “I’m not running away, I’m about to KILL A LION” your experience will completely change.
You’ll no longer feel scared or want to escape. You’ll be ready to FIGHT, you’ll be EXCITED about the oncoming challenge, you’ll get pumped up on 100% natural legal brain-derived human cocaine and crush it. You’ll be louder, more expressive, more confident, and more convincing because all of that energy that was going into telling you to run away is now channeled into showing whatever adversary you’re facing that you are not to be fucked with.
So remember, next time you feel anxious, intimidated, or fearful of some sort of performance or potential judgment, tell yourself, “I’m not scared, I’m about to kill a lion. Let’s go.” And you’ll be amazed at how fast your mental state changes.
Then consider joining the 22,000 other people getting the Monday Medley newsletter. It's a collection of fascinating finds from my week, usually about psychology, technology, health, philosophy, and whatever else catches my interest. I also include new articles, and book notes.