Perception: A reason why we experience performance anxiety which sometimes keeps us from our best

Have you ever wondered why you act perfectly fine with people you’re close to and sometimes struggle to be this normal when interacting with a secret admirer or complete strangers? The same social behaviors you flawlessly executed with friends struggled to manifest themselves in a different but similar social situation. This article delves into some reasons why this often undesirable shift in performance happens.

Some people find it easy to talk to friends and family members they like but find it more difficult to conversate with someone they don’t know but are romantically interested in. Some concerns might be: “Do they think I’m attractive?” “What do I say?” How do I make sure I come off the right way?” Or maybe there’s an upcoming work meeting that someone will be expected to share a status update to produce a certain desired meeting outcome. If there have been times in that person’s life when he/she has given advice to friends and family without issue but experiences anxiety at the thought of speaking at work, what’s the reason for that? This may be worth analyzing for those who dislike anxiety’s physical unpleasantness, performance impact, and health ramifications. Thinking about the meeting may trigger thoughts like: “Can I do this?” “What if I look uncomfortable and nervous and people discount my idea?” “What if what I have to say doesn’t sound smart?” “What if I stutter and look unintelligent?”

This brings us back to the opening question of the article. The contexts are different but the behaviors — conversating with someone and sharing advice — required in each context are extremely similar so why the struggle? If you share the same goal as I do to operate at your best in all that you do regardless of the circumstance, what holds us back from being our best all the time?

The variables at play

Let’s step back and analyze what I think are the key variables at play. There’s a) the external world that we perceive through our senses and b) our behavior. We can’t manipulate the world but a variable that’s at least partially in our control is our behavior. Behavior is the expression of motor actions performed by our limbic system. What drives our motor actions? I’d argue our brain. What does our brain do? I’d say it takes in and processes stimuli from the world via our 5 senses, gives us the ability to make sense and draw conclusions of the processed input, and allows us to take action from the conclusions we draw. I use the word perception to describe the in-the-moment conclusions we draw from stimuli our brain has processed.

Illustrating the brain process, I described looks like this:


Whenever we get rattled with nerves or other emotions that impact our performance something likely went awry in that chain of events but what?

As far as I can see it’s the perception part! What controls our perceptions? We do! If we can modify perceptions, we have a mechanism to help minimize the amount of times we feel performance anxiety or reduce the intensity of the anxiety which will likely help us in the quest to perform our best. This to me is great news because it suggests we aren’t inherently flawed in any way.

Next steps – Consciously change and control our perceptions

Modifying our perceptions sometimes necessitates a deeper understanding of what influences our perceptions, a topic I’ll likely address in the future. Hint, it may have something to do with beliefs 😉 I also think it’s helpful to note that performing our best doesn’t mean we’ll produce the outcomes we want every time. Our “best” can improve over time and that improvement will likely increase the odds of achieving our goals.

Until then, be easy, and stay up.

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