Exam season is not far away and for many it may remind us of other sorts of test anxiety that hold us back from time to time in our lives.
Are you being held back by test anxiety?
So many of us are. I know in my teens test anxiety meant it took me three attempts to pass my driving test when I could drive perfectly well by the time I took the test for the first time.
It can be so frustrating watching others promoted ahead of you because they have no fear of interviews (a form of test), not volunteering for that key presentation at work because speaking in front of people turns your legs to jelly. Often some of the best candidates for opportunities don’t apply because of their fear of the selection process.
What if you knew there was a way out of this?
There is an answer – which I wish I’d known way back when I was ploughing all my hard-earned savings into learning to drive and paying for those driving tests.
4 step process
Step 1 – Acknowledge what you have is performance anxiety and understand that you have a fear of being judged and found wanting. Realise it’s really common and that lots of people have overcome this in the past. Just look at sports men and women whose performance has dramatically improved quickly, I bet they worked on their performance anxiety.
Step 2 – Understand how this is just a habit you have developed and although that habit is so ingrained it’s become automatic, you can train your mind to replace it with a better, more positive habit of calm, confidence.
Step 3 – Start re-training your mind and practice, practice, practice until the new habit is so ingrained it becomes automatic
Step 4 - Transfer that mind training to real world practice
Here’s some tips on how to re-train your mind and replace that automatic negative reaction to tests of all kinds:
Get it straight with practice in your mind first
Rehearsal in your mind of the event. Take some time out, relax and imagine yourself doing what it is you need to do from the beginning of the performance to the end - really well. Really absorb yourself in the experience. Take your time, be sure to include the build-up, the test itself and after the test and include all the steps. Use all your senses to bring the experience to life.
Using all your senses is really important – as the anxiety you had could be fed by any/all of negative images, negative internal dialogue or negative feelings. So ensure you focus on all of positive images, sounds around you and what you are saying to yourself and the feelings you want to feel as you are doing this test successfully. Don’t worry if can’t bring up vivid images, lots of sounds and really intense feelings – just be open to focusing on these different elements.
Be your own mind coach
Correct your mistakes in your mind: If during this imaginary experience you observe yourself making a mistake – take on the role of a coach and coach yourself through the mistake giving guidance on what changes to make. Then observe yourself making those changes and notice how it feels to have improved. Do this regularly.
You are creating new associations in your mind and that can take time and practice makes permanent. Remember you spent a long time in the past practicing and becoming superb at being anxious, superb at seeing, hearing and feeling negative things about this. It may take a little while to install your new habit of being calm and confident.
Is all this called visualisation?
Some people call this process visualisation but I prefer the term Imaginary Rehearsal as you use all of your senses not just your sight . As I explain here everyone can visualise even if you think you can’t.
What if I can't relax to even attempt this?
If you struggle to relax so you can do this rehearsal then you can work on your relaxation skills by using an audio recording. There are many good ones available to purchase or I offer a free audio download here.
Transfer that mind practice to real life
Real life practice is crucial. Once you have rehearsed in your mind, rehearse in the real world. if you have an interview coming up, have a mock interview. Or drive to the building where the interview will take place and notice how much calmer you feel. If you don’t feel as calm as you would like go back to the mental practice, then try again.
If you have a driving test coming up, take a lesson with a different instructor to the one you normally have and ask them to treat the lesson like a test. Take what you learn from this back into your mental rehearsal practice.
Unlink today from the past
Many performance anxieties are linked to an event in the past – which sowed the seed for the anxiety. For instance fear of public speaking may have stemmed from an unkind comment from a classmate or teacher when you got up to do your show-and-tell at school, which made you feel embarrassed. Your subconscious mind then seeks to protect you from this in future. Unfortunately, it's over zealous and does just too good a job of this.
In many cases the process of changing the habit will work but if the process doesn’t work for you or maybe works for a while but the anxiety creeps back up again, you might want to look at Hypnotherapy to help you remove that emotional link to that past event. You can do this even if you are not aware what that original triggering event might have been.
Once this is done the emotional tie between the event in the past and the current test you want to pass is gone and the anxiety can simply melt away.