The Anxiety Antidote
Four Phrases that will Bring You Optimal Performance in Any Condition
What is anxiety? How does it affect our performance? What can we do to overcome anxiety and perform at our highest level? Is there an antidote for anxiety?
The Anxiety Summit
My wife, Susan, is a nutritionist. She sees individuals in her clinic to help them heal from chronic health challenges, and she teaches college nutrition classes.
She is frequently engaged in conferences and summits on nutrition topics. Last year she went to an entire summit on anxiety. The basic nutrition connection is this: bad gut health leads to bad brain health and bad brain health leads to more incidence of anxiety.
But I’m not going to give you nutrition advice in this post. We’re going to look at anxiety from another angle. This week, I’ve been thinking of the flood of COVID-19 news and advice I’ve been receiving in my inbox. And I’ve noticed with all the advice that I’ve actually been more distracted and less effective this week.
Just as I was realizing this, the interview my wife shared with me from this anxiety summit gave me some perspective on my less than optimal performance. The content was from an athletic performance coach named Jonathan Landsman. He has helped hundreds of athletes overcome the effects of anxiety so they could perform at optimal levels and win. But rather than what we put into our mouths, or how we train our bodies, his modality is more about what we put into our minds.
What is Anxiety?
First, a few words about anxiety. Here’s the definition from the dictionary:
Anxiety (anx·i·e·ty) /aNGˈzīədē/ Noun – a feeling of worry, nervousness, or unease, typically about an imminent event or something with an uncertain outcome.
High Stakes for your Business
Are you feeling some anxiety about uncertain outcomes for your business right now? You have invested a lot of time and money to build your business. You have worked to create a culture that delivers high value for your clients and your team! What will weeks of disrupted business cycles mean for your business?
High Stakes – Overcoming Anxiety to Perform at the Highest Level
When the stakes are high it is more important than ever for you and your team to deliver an optimal performance and win!
At the highest levels of athletic competition, levels of anxiety can be extremely high. Think of the years many athletes invest in training, and the money invested in coaching. The stakes can be very high. When it all comes down to the championship performance, match, or race, the outcome can mean one of two things:
The thrill of victory! Notoriety, endorsements, continued growth in the sport.
– OR –
The agony of defeat! Obscurity, financial challenges, change of career focus.
How Does Anxiety Affect Our Performance?
High Stakes Can Bring High Anxiety. As I was thinking about the impact of anxiety on individuals and businesses, I found this chart to be a helpful visualization of the phenomenon.
For optimal levels of performance, we don’t want our level of arousal to be too low or too high. We don’t turn in our best performance when we’re sleepy or bored. And we don’t turn in our best performance when stressed out and filled with nervousness and worry about an uncertain outcome. It’s the Goldilocks factor … we want our attention and arousal to not be too”hot” or too “cold” … we want it to be “just right!”
Four Phrases that Eliminate Anxiety
In his work with athletes, Jonathan Landsman relates that frequent repetition of the four following phrases created a sort of warrior mindset over time that prepared athletes for optimal performance in any condition.
Phrase One — “You don’t know, wait and see.”
This one is about admitting we don’t know everything. Especially when we’re feeling stress or anxiety, it’s helpful to remind ourselves that the catastrophic outcomes we’re capable of conjuring up are not real. Our subconscious minds have a hard time telling the difference between images we conjure up and the images we actually observe.
So when you catch yourself imagining a terrible future, repeat the phrase “You don’t know, wait and see.” And then while you wait, create a vision of a positive future for your subconscious brain to work on. For athlete and business owner alike, this is envisioning the win! As I help companies implement the Entrepreneurial Operating System (EOS), we create an amazing Vision of the positive future for their business…and we describe the vision on a two-page document called the Vision / Traction Organizer (V/TO) for easy reference and frequent rehearsal.
Phrase Two — “You don’t have control over outcomes.”
This one is about overcoming the steady stream of thoughts like “what if I do all this training and I don’t do well in the tournament?” “What if I try this move, and it doesn’t work?” “What if my revenue is way off this quarter and I don’t execute to my plan?”
When you catch yourself doing this, you should instead focus on what you do have control over … the Process. You know what to do. You’ve been practicing it for years. Do it the best way you can. Do it efficiently, effectively and with the passion that brought you to be a performer in your field in the first place! When you stop worrying about outcomes, you can focus on the things you do that make for great outcomes.
In EOS, we get really clear about the processes you are executing. From defining and documenting your Core Business Processes, to defining SMART Company and Individual Rocks, you know what to do to increase the likelihood of favorable outcomes. Lead, Manage and hold your people Accountable for following the process.
Phrase Three — “Everything happens to you for your greatest benefit.”
This one is about being realistic about things. What if you have a spectacular loss in front of thousands of people? What if you know things could have gone better in one interaction with one client? The idea is to take the anxiety, humiliation and the frustration from those experiences and turn it around. Think of it as a gift! Say to yourself, “hey… this is a gift! It’s a gift because I can learn from it!”
“In the athletic world,” Landsman says “you don’t learn too much from all your wins and successes. You actually learn so much more, you become so much better as a human being, and certainly as an athlete, from your losses and your difficult times. When you really believe this, why would you be anxious about anything?”
In EOS, we have several ways to evaluate the “gifts” of learning that occur. In our weekly Level-10 meetings, we learn from our Scorecard whether our key operating measures are “on track” or “off track”. And when we “drop down” an off track part of our business to the Issues List part of the meeting agenda, we continue the learning with our team as we “IDS”. IDS means we Identify the root cause of the issue, Discuss possibilities and alternative approaches to solve it for the greater good of the business, and Solve the issue by taking clear responsibility for action in a To-Do. We then hold each other accountable to get it “To-Done” ensuring that our learning brings about positive change.
Phrase Four — “Life is always a 50/50 choice.”
Landsman says “Always being anxious, always being depressed, always being frustrated, always being angry about things in a chronically destructive way is really a choice. Everything that’s about to happen next is basically a 50/50 chance for you to take a positive or a negative attitude.”
Nadal Overcomes Anxiety for the Win!
Landsman gave a great illustration of this by talking about the Men’s Singles final match at the 2008 Wimbledon Championships. In this match, Rafael Nadal defeated the five-time defending champion Roger Federer in the final, 6–4, 6–4, 6–7, 6–7, 9–7 to win.
This was a grueling match. The longest in Wimbledon history. Hours and hours. Nadal wins the first two sets and loses the next two to Federer. After he won the fifth and final set, beating the greatest grass-court player ever to play the game, the press asked him how he did it. He responded to the worldwide media by saying “I simply looked at the fifth set as ‘I have a 50/50 chance’. He won two sets. I won two sets. And I have just as much of a chance of winning this match as he does.”
Nadal took the attitude that “life is always a 50/50 choice.”
So why choose to think negatively? Why choose to be in an anxious state? I think in the EOS world, this positive vs negative attitude is reflected in a company’s Core Values, and by having the Right People in the organization who are living those values.
Optimal Performance in any Condition – Even a “Slog”
In the days and weeks ahead, remember that the impact of the worldwide COVID-19 pandemic is more of a “slog’ than an event. As you and your team slog through the next several weeks, keep these four phrases in mind. Repeat them to yourself and to your team with some frequency. Remember, a good leader “repeats themselves often”.
You can see the way these Four Phrases are completely aligned with the tools and disciplines of the EOS Model.
“You don’t know, wait and see.” And while you wait, envision your positive future by reviewing your V/TO.
“You don’t have control over outcomes.” But you can control processes. Get your Core Processes defined and followed by all and focus on Rock completion.
“Everything happens to you for your greatest benefit.” Learn from everything that happens to you by paying attention to your Scorecard and having powerful IDS sessions with your team.
“Life is always a 50/50 chance.” Everything that’s about to happen next is basically a 50/50 chance for you to take a positive or a negative attitude. Live your Core Values and keep it positive!
Performance in Any Condition
As you incorporate the Four Phrases into your thinking and your team leadership, tell me about the impact. Do you see yourself and your team moving more into the mindset that prepares you for optimal performance in any condition? I’d love to hear about it!
Be great today!
Coach, Facilitator, Speaker
Professional EOS Implementer