A big moment is a big deal, whether you’re a seventh-grader trying out for the school soccer team in front of your classmates or a Tenth Circuit judge trying out for a little ol’ promotion in front of the entire Senate Judiciary Committee. Whatever your big moment—an interview, a performance, a race—it’s the culmination of your hard work, time, and energy.
You know you’ve prepared. You know you’re ready. But your anxiety is making you feel like you just drank a tanker truck of espresso and you’re biting your nails like a woodchipper. You’ve been told to take a few deep breaths, but that feels about as effective as a parasol in a tornado.
What to do? This week, here are six strategies for your big moment besides “picture your audience in their underwear.”
Tip #1: Set a process goal rather than an outcome goal.
While it’s important to aim high, some goals are more intimidating than others. Approach a big moment with the mindset of “I only have one shot,” or “Ace this presentation or die,” and you’re pretty much guaranteed a one-way ticket to chokesville.
Instead of setting a goal based on only narrow parameters of achievement—”Get a million dollars of funding for my startup,” “Debut my novel on the bestseller lists,” set what’s called a process goal: evaluate yourself based on the journey, not the outcome.
An excellent process goal is: “Learn all I can.” For example, instead of “Make my new restaurant #1 in the city,” try the process goal of: “Learn all I can about launching a new restaurant.”
Another great process goal is to “share.” Share your knowledge, share your passion. For example, swap “Give a flawless presentation” for “Share what I know with energy and conviction.”
What does this do? It lessens the pressure, which frees you up to be more flexible and resilient, and ultimately do a better job than staying thumbscrewed to a narrow outcome goal. Indeed, any setbacks or challenges can be folded into your new goal—it’s all part of the process.
Tip #2: Picture what could go wrong.
You’ve undoubtedly been told to visualize your success, whether by conventional wisdom or the decidedly-not-evidence-based theories of The Secret.
But rather than simply visualizing landing the job or finishing the marathon, add a couple of steps. First, think through the benefits of achieving your goal. Why are you doing this? What do you stand to gain?
But then, also visualize the obstacles in your way, whether it’s technical difficulties with your microphone, getting heckled during your debut stand-up routine, or rolling your ankle at mile 23.
Why do this? A study in the Journal of Experimental Social Psychology found that mere positive visualization can be counterproductive. It saps motivation and energy because your brain is fooled into thinking achieving your goal will be a piece of cake.
Instead, critical visualizations—imagining both positive and negative aspects of your big moment—keep you motivated, push you to prepare, and keep your energy high for the long haul.
Tip #3: Power pose, but in motion.
Those of us not recently returned from Neptune have undoubtedly heard of power posing—holding an expansive, confident posture like Wonder Woman—before a big moment to increase confidence and presence.
But guess what? Power posing doesn’t have to be motionless. You can amp up your energy and mood while in motion as well. A study in the journal Biofeedback found that walking in a slouched position for two to three minutes subjectively drained energy levels, especially for those with pre-existing symptoms of depression. By contrast, skipping for two or three minutes created a subjective increase in energy levels.
You don’t have to skip down the hall at work (though that would be awesome), but do put a deliberate spring in your step, and watch your energy follow.
Tip #4: The Mona Lisa smile.
The Mona Lisa smile also uses your body to influence your emotions, except rather than confidence and presence, we’re aiming for calm and serenity. It’s officially a technique called half-smile from dialectical behavioral therapy, and it’s used to help increase distress tolerance, also known as not losing it when the going gets rough.
To try it out, arrange your face to mimic the Mona Lisa’s barely-there smile. Then, deliberately relax your eyes, jaw, scalp, and shoulders. The Mona Lisa smile isn’t a tight-lipped grimace—it’s serene and steady, a great antidote for when you’re feeling anything but.
Indeed, think of the serenity prayer and use the Mona Lisa smile during those moments where you’re trying really hard to “accept what you cannot change.”
Beware a creeping sense of ‘I don’t care.’
Tip #5: Resist the urge to disengage.
You know when it’s happening—you pre-emptively de-value your big moment in order to protect yourself from potential failure. You may start thinking: “I don’t even want this.” “Who am I kidding?” “This isn’t what really matters.”
Now, it’s fine to get some perspective: “In five years, will anyone really remember if I screwed up?” or “What’s most important is the health of my family, not this job offer.”
But beware a creeping sense of “I don’t care.” Disengagement and devaluing are designed to protect your psyche if things go wrong, but they may also lead to a self-fulfilling prophecy of failure. If you convince yourself you don’t care, you won’t put your best foot forward.
So remember why you went through all the trouble to prepare for your big moment. Stay engaged, stay hungry. If your big moment doesn’t turn out as you planned, so be it. At least you stayed engaged all the way to the end. By contrast, if you disengage, you’ll always wonder what might have been.
Tip #6: Affirm what you’re good at, even if it has nothing to do with the moment.
We often try to psych ourselves up by telling ourselves we’re good at what we’re about to do.“I’m gonna crush this interview.” “I’m gonna run the race of my life.” “I own this Tracy Turnblad role.” But sometimes that just feels like a lie.
Instead of empty cheerleading, try affirming the values and actions that you believe deeply–affirm those things that make you, you–even if it has nothing to do with your big moment. Murmuring to yourself, “I’m a really patient father,” “I’ve got 25 years of sobriety under my belt,” or “I believe in providing my kids the best education possible,” may seem nonsensical when you’re about to step onstage for your Hairspray audition, but it works by reinforcing your belief in yourself and your values.
So next time you find yourself in your personal equivalent of Eminem’s final rap battle in 8 Mile, put a Mona Lisa smile on your face, a spring in your step, true-to-the-core affirmations in your heart, and vow to learn all you can. You’ll turn your biggest moment into your biggest success.
Image courtesy of Shutterstock.