#1555 Areté +1° #069: I'm Excited!

What To Say When You’re Nervous

Hi, this is Brian.

Welcome back to another Areté +1°, a micro-chapter from my new book, Areté: Activate Your Heroic Potential.

451 ideas in this 1,000+ page book. Hope you enjoy it if you get it.

Here's one of my all-time favorite ideas.

I say that a lot because I’ve got a lot of all-time favorites, but this one's tied for first as well!

Literally, fundamentally changed my own life.

Here it is.


Alison Wood Brooks is a researcher at Harvard Business School. She’s studied the most effective strategies for dealing with acute stress.

First, a little test: Imagine that you need to give a big presentation in front of a bunch of people. Your heart’s been pounding for days at the mere thought of this talk. Palms are sweaty. All that.

What should you tell yourself? Should you try to calm down or should you try to feel excited?

When Alison asked that question to hundreds of people, the response was nearly unanimous: 91% said they thought the best advice was to try to calm down.


That’s not what her research shows is most effective.

Get this…

Alison brought people into her lab and gave them a super-stressful test. She made them give an impromptu speech—something that has been proven to do a very good job at eliciting a very high level of stress.

(Side note: Did you know that people are more afraid of public speaking than dying? Yep. That’s why Jerry Seinfeld once joked that “If you have to go a funeral, you’re better off in the casket than doing the eulogy.” Hah!)

So, back to our study.

Everyone is told they have to give a speech. The normal stress response kicks in. She instructs half of them to say to themselves: “I am calm.” The other half were instructed to say: “I’m excited!”

Guess what? The “I’m excited!” group way outperformed the group that tried to calm themselves down.

Why is that?

Because anxiety is what scientists call a “high-arousal state” while being calm is a “low arousal state.” It’s almost impossible to shift from a high-arousal state of fear/anxiety/etc. immediately into a calm state. It’s like cruising at eighty miles an hour and slamming on the brakes. Not a good idea.

Much wiser to take all that fear energy and simply reframe it as excitement—channeling it into a positive, constructive direction and, effectively, pressing go on the accelerator rather than stop.

Simply saying “I’m excited!” is a surprisingly powerful way to make that happen.


If you feel so inspired, the next time YOU feel yourself getting energized before something important to you, remember to say…

“I’m excited!”

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