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Building our Uncertainty Muscle



Performance anxiety is a common challenge that my clients face and must learn to manage. At its core, performance anxiety stems from uncertainty—the fear of the unknown outcomes and the pressure to meet expectations. Whether you're facing a crucial presentation, or competing in a high-stakes competition, the fear of failure can be our worst enemy. However, by gaining an acceptance that uncertainty is inevitable and building strategies to become more comfortable with it, you can overcome performance anxiety and unlock your full potential.


1. Focus on What You Can Control: One of the most effective ways to manage performance anxiety is to focus on what is within your control. Instead of fixating on external factors or outcomes beyond your influence, direct your attention to the aspects of the situation that you can manage. This may include your preparation, mindset intention, and performance process. By channeling your energy of attention into actions you can control, you regain a sense of agency and confidence in your abilities.


2. Shift from "What If" to "Even If": Performance anxiety often arises from catastrophic thinking—dwelling on all the things that could go wrong. Instead of getting caught up in "what if" scenarios, reframe your mindset to focus on "even if" outcomes. Acknowledge the possibility of challenges or setbacks, but remind yourself that you have the resilience and capability to handle them.  I often help my clients to see that the “what if” ends their mental story at the failure, but that the “even if” mindset allows them to go beyond the thought of failure and finish the “story” with what they’d do AFTER the fact. They’d bounce back and keep working. They’ve handled setbacks before, and they’ll handle it again. The result is a bit less fear of any outcome, and a more resilient belief system.


3. Consider What Is Possible: Rather than solely focusing on what you're afraid of, broaden your perspective to consider the full range of possibilities – they’re still uncertain, but at least it reminds us that there are positive uncertainties as well. 

Embrace uncertainty as an opportunity for growth and exploration. Visualize positive outcomes and potential opportunities that may arise, allowing yourself to envision success beyond your initial fears. In order to see performance more realistically we have to allow ourselves to see all possibilities. Yes, the negative can happen, but so can the amazing! By embracing a mindset of possibility, you open yourself up to new experiences and opportunities for success. 


4. Acceptance of Failure or Mistakes: One of the most liberating practices in overcoming performance anxiety is accepting the possibility of failure or mistakes. Recognize that setbacks are a natural part of the learning process and an opportunity for growth. Embrace a mindset of resilience and self-compassion, knowing that even if things don't go as planned, you have the ability to learn and adapt. By accepting failure as a possibility, you free yourself from the fear of making mistakes and can approach challenges with greater confidence and authenticity. We’re never rooting for ourselves to fail, but we also must loosen our intense grip on things always needing to go our way. This acceptance is really the key to playing freer and with less fear!


5. Practice Mindfulness: Mindfulness is a powerful practice for managing performance anxiety by creating intentional mental reps of bring you focus to the present moment. Instead of getting lost in worries about the future or past regrets, practice mindfulness as a way to re-focus yourself in the here and now. Engage in mindfulness practices such as deep breathing, meditation, or body scanning to quiet the mind as a way of accepting this present moment again and again. By connecting with the present moment, you can alleviate anxiety and enhance your ability to visualize yourself at your absolute best. 


The bottom line is that performance anxiety is a natural response to uncertainty and is truly pretty common, but it doesn't have to hold you back. By embracing uncertainty as a part of high-performance and adopting practices to become more comfortable with it, you can overcome performance anxiety and learn to lock-in during challenging situations. Focus on what you can control, shift your mindset from "what if" to "even if," consider what is possible, accept failure or mistakes as part of the process, and practice mindfulness to stay grounded in the present moment. With these strategies, you can navigate uncertainty with a deep belief that you’ve trained the tools that can get you to the other side of it!


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Stuart Singer, M.Ed., and PsyD (ABD) is the Director of WellPerformance, a Mental Performance Coaching and Consulting practice, and the creator of the DoSo app https://t.co/R61vbpda4X . For more information regarding this topic, he can be contacted at ssinger@wellperformancecoach.com or follow him on X: @wellperformance, or Instagram: @wellperformance

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