Athletes do warm-up drills before they hit the court. Musicians run scales and rehearse before learning a new piece or performing in front of a crowd. Public speakers practice speech exercises to get primed for a talk. Writers get the ideas flowing with short prompts and exercises — anything that gets the fingers typing and the words spilling onto the blank page.
In order to perform at our best, whether it’s giving a big talk, or competing in an athletic event, adequate warm-up is paramount to superior performance.
One of my favorite thing to do before going on a first date is listen to comedy. As I’m driving on my way to the venue, I have standup comedy playing through my speakers. Listening to something funny eases me into a playful, positive, fun mood.
Comedy gets me smiling, and whether that’s a natural result of a funny bit on the way to a date, or if it’s forcing a smile to my face while looking in the mirror before work, something as simple as a smile can set you up for success for whatever the ensuing situation calls for.
It works great for going on a date, but it can also help you feel more relaxed and clear if you’re going into a meeting with your boss, or if you have to give a presentation at school, or simply if you want to start your day on the right note.
Priming techniques like this are helpful in any scenario that demands the best, most confident and charismatic version of yourself. As it turns out, priming isn’t just helpful for nailing a job interview or making great first impressions, but they should be a tool at your disposal for everyday life, especially if you’re an anxious person.
I’ve tussled with boiling social anxiety for all of my life, but only in the past few years have I been able to bring it down to a simmer. To be clear, it’s still there, and always will be, and while I wish it was something I could wring out of my system entirely — like a sponge — it’s something I’ve learned to manage thanks in large part to a few critical priming techniques.
I’ve distilled my years of trial and error to three techniques that give have given me the best ROI for amount of time needed per day. These techniques can do wonders if you give them an honest try, and whether you suffer from anxiety, or you could simply use a little more spring in your step, they’re worth a shot.
1. Do something physical.
In the documentary, I Am Not Your Guru, you’ll see that seconds before walking on stage in front of thousands of people, Tony Robbins will jump up and down on a trampoline backstage. The technique is called rebounding, and in addition to its health benefits on your lymphatic system, the simple act of jumping up and down has a profound energizing effect.
I don’t have space for a trampoline in my apartment, but I’ve found that something as simple as bouncing on the balls of your feet for a minute or two while flailing your arms around works pretty damn well (the flailing is key).
The last thing you need in the morning is a rude awakening, but unfortunately, that’s probably the best thing to do to kick your body into awake mode.
Another effective option for the bold reader is a contrast shower. What you’ll do is hop into a hot shower, and every thirty seconds change it to absolute cold, then switch back to hot in thirty seconds. Repeat for a few minutes and this will wake you up like a foghorn.
Contrast showers and jumping up and down on your balls (of your feet) work great, but what works best for me is lifting heavy weights.
The experience of pushing your physiology to its limit and living in that momentary space between failure and one more rep genuinely feels like my body is being rewired. It’s like the Duracell just kicked, and once I drop the weights, a fresh one is popped in and I’m fully charged.
When I’ve just wrapped a heavy training session, I feel better about the world and myself, I can think clearer, the beta-endorphins are flowing, and I feel better able to put my best step forward in whatever it is I’ll do next. I started training to improve my physique, but over time I realized that working out had a huge influence on how I think and feel.
A milder activity that gives me the same cognitive benefits is taking a walk. I only workout three days per week, but on off days, it’s guaranteed that a long walk is on the schedule.
Just like working out, taking a long, leisurely stroll can dust off the mental cobwebs from staring at a computer all morning, and it also puts me in a better mood.
Putting your body on autopilot (all you have to do is walk) frees up mental energy in a way that relieves pressure on the problem-solving machinery, and encourages the flow of thoughts and ideas. I often have my best ideas and breakthroughs on walks.
Whether I’m trying to work through an article I’m writing, or have a problem in my life that I’m toiling over, going for a walk almost always helps me think of best solutions in either case.
The physical priming technique is one third of the recipe for an anxiety-free day. If nothing else, it will make you more aware of your physical presence and feel more connected with things like your gait, your posture, and how you carry yourself in public. Anxiety manifests itself in many ways, and body language is a huge giveaway.
2. Clean up your speech.
You know that Kurt Vonnegut quote? “When I write, I feel like an armless, legless man with a crayon in my mouth.” If I didn’t get enough sleep the night before, or have to rush out of the house before I’ve had time to chug a pot of coffee, I feel like Kurt.
Some days, I walk around all day with a mouthful of wax or marbles, and I forget that it takes more than just my mouth to produce enough volume and force for someone to hear what I’m actually saying.
Anxiety, for me, most pointedly manifests in my speech. If I don’t say anything before I leave the house in the morning, the quality of my speech will almost entirely be determined by how I’m feeling that morning.
If I’m tired, or super stressed or anxious about something, the result will be a lazy, marble-mouthed oaf. I won’t greet people well or engage people in conversation effectively. I can’t seem to give my words enough umph or volume for anyone to hear me, as if every word I utter is my last dying, largely inaudible breath.
The good news is that, in recent years, I’ve found that a few simple speech exercises can prevent this. By practicing a few speech techniques for about twenty minutes, I can prime the machinery (i.e. the noises I make with my face) for better communication throughout my day.
I know that the times I most need to do the exercises are when I least want to do them. I usually go into the exercise tired and groggy (since I do this in the morning), but when I’m done, my vocal machinery is switched on, my brain is sharp, I find that I have a better economy of words at my disposal, and I’m in the best possible place communicate effectively.
Just as forcing the muscles in your face to form a smile can instantly improve your mood, forcing yourself to practice good speech will make you more aware of what you say and how you say it throughout the day.
If speech exercises aren’t for you, something as easy as reading aloud from a favorite book of an author you like works pretty well, too.
This is perhaps my favorite priming technique, and paired with physical exercise, it is a one-two punch for setting myself up for a confident and productive day.
3. Get meditative.
The final addition to this trifecta is meditation. Physical activity wakes up your body, speech exercises improve how you talk, and meditation quiets the mind.
By this point, you’re likely familiar with the supposed benefits of meditation, even if you haven’t given it a try. Twenty minutes of meditation each day helps me focus, and it quiets the gremlins of the mind who are trying to sabotage my confidence, my self-worth, and my mental fortitude, and replace them with fear, crippling self-doubt, and anxiety.
Meditation does a great job of flushing the gremlins out and wiping the slate clean for the day. If you’re still not convinced that meditation is hugely beneficial, the next best thing would be to partake in meditative activities.
In that respect, it’s pretty subjective on what practices you equate with meditative; it might be playing a musical instrument, going for a walk, or simply taking a moment to yourself to sit down, focus on your breath, or observe your thoughts. It could even be something like working on a coloring book or playing with legos. Most importantly, the activity should be playful in nature.
4. Pretend life is a simulation.
You can think of this technique as the emergency brake if you elect to skip the priming trifecta altogether. I will employ this neat trick during my day if I’m feeling particularly anxious of frazzled.
All you have to do it pretend life is actually a simulation. Look it up, it’s called simulation theory.
Really imagine that everything you see is just ones and zeroes embedded in a massive hard drive somewhere in the sky, and you’re just a passenger on the ride. I’ve found that by adopting this mindset, I’m better able to look strangers in the eye, speak freely without worrying about how I come off to the other person, and ultimately shrug off the incessant worries and insecurities I may otherwise have.
The object is not to dehumanize people and see how ridiculous you can act in public, instead the result should be to realize there are so many people out there, each with their own history, worries and insecurities, and they’re all just concerned with their own lives; they’re not staring at you or even thinking about you.
After all, you’re probably just a simulation in someone else’s life. By first pretending everything is a simulation, you’re able to let your guard down and feel more at ease in public. The goal is to bridge the gap between simulation and reality by realizing that, when it comes to feelings of self-consciousness and social anxiety, there isn’t really a difference between the two.
Whether life really is a simulation or not, people are mostly concerned with themselves, not what other people are doing or thinking. Which is what you should do.
Just as you warm up for a workout, or run a few scales before learning a new song on your guitar, warming up for your everyday life will help ensure you’re presenting your best self to the world.
If your speech is articulate, your mind sharp, and your body alive, you’re in a superior state to approach any challenge or situation. Especially if you’re prone to anxiety, but also if you find yourself having more “off” days than usual, these techniques allow you to prime yourself to engage the world as the sharpest, most present version of yourself.
Give them a try. Do them often, and I think you’ll be amazed at how well they can excise the gremlins from your mind, and engage life from a place of calmness, awareness, and confidence.