I will never forget the first time I gave a presentation in school. I was in first grade, and our assignment was to report on an animal that interested us. Of course, I picked a sea lion (because I was five).
Getting in front of those kids was one of the hardest experiences of my life. Growing up, I was the youngest of four children, and I was used to blending in the background while the older kids did more impressive activities (not that I’m bitter).
So being the center of attention was something I wasn’t equipped for, and I suffered. I couldn’t remember what I was supposed to say or what the picture I had in my hands was all about. All I could do was stutter and feel terrified.
But my teacher had mercy on me, and until now, I didn’t even acknowledge what she did to help. She joined in and got me excited about the sea lion. She started naming facts (that I knew) about the sea lion and how majestic the animal is. Hearing this made me want to share the beautiful attributes of the sea lion with the world, so I began letting the words flow from my jovial face.
This isn’t just a tale about a young boy coming to grips with public speaking. It’s really about how excitement is one of the most under-utilized skills in our arsenal of personality.
What the Research Says
This isn’t opinion. The American Psychological Association (APA) recently published a study about how excitement is extremely effective in regards to performance anxiety.¹
In one of the studies, a group of participants were instructed to prepare a speech in front of a committee. The researchers instructed some of the participants to say, “I am excited” before the speech, while other participants were told to say, “I am calm.” The researchers found in this, and many other experiments, that the participants who were told to be excited were more competent and persuasive.
They concluded that the difference between telling yourself to be calm and telling yourself to be excited comes down to how your brain responds to these statements. If you are aiming to be calm, you’re thinking about all of the things that could go wrong, but if you tell yourself to be excited, you’re thinking of everything that could go right, according to one of the researchers.
Why it Works
You may be wondering why the simple act of saying I am excited is enough to actually make us excited. We don’t like to think we’re that gullible.
But the fact is that there is a strong connection between our emotions and what we desire for them. Though we can’t simply “wish” ourselves into any emotional state we want 100% of the time, we can drive our feelings into a direction that does lead to anger, happiness, sadness and yes, excitement.
Excitement is one of the best ways to deal with stress and anxiety, but not for the reasons you’re probably thinking. Excitement is one of the results of anticipation, arguably the most mature method of dealing with stress.²
Proper anticipation allows us to think through what will happen and how we will tangibly deal with it.
This reduces stress because it reduces uncertainty. From there, we can derive excitement from the predictable results of the actions we will take in the given situation.
Going further, it’s important to understand that our feelings of positive energy and enthusiasm derive from our neurotransmitters. Specifically, our endorphins are responsible for our body’s desire to seek out…more desire.
When you tell yourself to be excited, and you’re now anticipating a positive outcome, our endorphins are what guide this process to pleasure. These are the same chemical goodies that give us a rush when we exercise, have intercourse or even eat delicious food.
Each person has a different capacity or production of endorphins, and they’re not all good. The lack or overabundance of these neurotransmitters can actually lead to mental illnesses, such as obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD).
In most cases, however, endorphins are quite helpful. They tell us when something is good and when we need more of it, hence their link to excitement and how we can overcome our anxieties.
Now that you have a general idea of how and why excitement works, we need to also note how you can channel this energy into a common habit.
We can talk all day about how our bodies form habits, but for now, here are three simple steps to gaining more excitement:
1. Find out what’s holding you back.
If you’re finding it difficult to get excited about anything, then it’s time to identify the things in your life that are bringing you down.
It could be your job, relationships or even your own lack of self-esteem.
2. Limit the effects of negativity on your life.
In any of these cases, a simple change can be the catalyst you need for mastering excitement.
Making new friends, finding a meaningful hobby or even being less hard on yourself are simple steps to letting your enthusiasm grow.
3. Gain a sense of identity.
Before you can start motivating yourself, you must define yourself. It’s hard to get excited about life when you don’t feel like you’re living your own.
If you’re living the life that someone else is wishing upon you, your mind may find it pointless to find your accomplishments valuable. Of course, this doesn’t mean we shouldn’t do things for others, but it does mean that “faking it” is a fraudulent road to excitement.
Does a certain hobby make you truly excited? It may be embarrassing, but it will make you happier than if you try to fake excitement for a hobby that your friends or family expect you to like.
In conclusion, the most valuable lesson I’ve learned about excitement doesn’t really come from the research or facts presented above. It comes from experiencing the real benefits of letting excitement and shameless enthusiasm dictate what’s ahead. It comes from the simple act of being the most powerful motivator in your own life.
You may also want to read: What Makes a Person Creative?¹American Psychological Association (2013, December 23). Getting excited helps with performance anxiety more than trying to calm down, study finds. ScienceDaily. Retrieved December 23, 2013, from http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2013/12/131223083917.htm ²Robin Skynner/John Cleese, Life and how to survive it (London 1994) p. 55