You've practiced your talk hundreds of times and in the comfort of your own home, you nail your speech. But, during tonight's sound check on the big stage, you stumbled over your words and forgot half of what you planned to say.
You're concerned that tomorrow, in front of a live audience, you're going to mess up and blow your big opportunity.
What should you do tonight to ensure your chances of success? Read every article you can find on giving good speeches? Practice your speech a dozen more times? Call your friends for emotional support? Or visualize yourself delivering a successful performance?
Well, according to research, your best bet would be to spend the evening visualizing yourself succeeding. Visualization is one of the three psychological skills that can help you deliver the performance of your life.
When the pressure is on, your mind can be your best asset or your worst enemy. For decades, researchers have tried to pinpoint which skills are most helpful in developing the mindset of a champion.
In 2016, researchers from the UK decided to put a variety of psychological skills to the test. They divided participants into groups and examined which skills helped them perform better in a series of video game competitions.
The results, which were published in Frontiers in Psychology, revealed that imagery, self-talk, and if-then planning were the best psychological strategies for improving performance fast. People who use these skills are able to increase their motivation and effort by keeping their emotions and arousal levels in check.
Whether you want to deliver the best presentation you can or you want to ask your boss for a raise, these psychological skills can help you do your best. Here's how to use them in your life:
Imagining yourself doing well increases the chances that you'll perform well. But research has found people struggle more with imagery because they aren't quite sure how to do it.
The process can be simple--just walk yourself through the steps it takes to reach your goal. Picture yourself succeeding at each step along the way. And spend a minute thinking about the outcome you hope to achieve.
Imagine if Tiger Woods said to himself, "I hope this doesn't go in the sand trap," every time he took a swing at a golf ball. Or, what if Serena Williams thought, "I hope this doesn't go out of bounds," every time she hit a tennis ball?
It's likely those athletes wouldn't be at the top of their game if they talked to themselves like that. Professional athletes know how to talk to themselves in a way that their performance is enhanced.
The study found motivational self-talk worked better than instructional self-talk. So rather than remind yourself, "Step over here and stand up straighter," you're better off thinking, "You're doing a great job. Keep up the good work."
Self-talk related to the outcome can be especially beneficial. Remind yourself how good you'll feel when you've completed the project or what will happen when you cross the finish line.
3. If-Then Planning
If-then statements are just as effective in competition as they are in other behavior changes, such as losing weight.
You can practice if-then planning by identifying a common challenge you're likely to face (if) and the action you'll take (then).
For example, you might say, "If I doubt myself, then I'll think about my skills," or "If my heart starts to beat fast, then I'll take slow, deep breaths to calm my body."
Having a plan in place for the challenges you're likely to experience can help you push through those obstacles while also preventing emotions, like anxiety and fear, from taking hold.
Like any other skill, your psychological skills can improve with practice. And you don't have to wait for high-stakes situations to practice.
Use these psychological skills in a variety of situations--sales meetings, performance reviews, cold calls, or everyday projects. With practice, you'll build the mental strength you need to perform at your peak.
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Originally published on Inc.com.