I am a great follower of Dan Ariely (or of anyone, for that matter, who studies the quirkiness of humanity, especially when it comes to making decisions). He has a column in at least every other Saturday’s Wall Street Journal where he talks about many aspects of human decisions and human psychology. Yesterday he addressed a letter writer who talked about how she gets incredibly “stressed out” when she has to give a talk or presentation. She claims that “my heart starts pounding, I sweat and I breathe much faster.” In short, she was scared and she was asking Dan what she could do.
Dan advised her that how we think about stress can make us less stressed and healthier. He advised that instead of interpreting these physical changes as signs that you’re not coping well with pressure, try to see them as signs that your body is energized for the task. He recommended interpreting one’s pounding heart, for instance, as preparing for action and the fast breathing as ensuring that more oxygen will be getting to your brain.
This strategy, he identified, is known as cognitive reappraisal. Studies, he claims, have shown that feeling stress in this way makes people less anxious and more confident. Well, I think that this is really only one half of the remedy. Just because you recognize that you can practice cognitive reappraisal doesn’t mean that you may experience any less stress unless YOU KNOW WHAT TO DO in the activity itself!
Many candidates experience this kind of stress in the interviewing process. (Employers do too, but admit it less.) I think it’s important to have this kind of nervousness or stress before any “performance” oriented event. Without a little bit of stress or fear, we probably would not perform as well.
The important thing, especially in interviewing, is to know what to do. Most people do not practice interviewing anywhere near the extent that they should before they get into the interviewing process. Most candidates think that they can just wing it and do well on just about every interview. After all, most of them have gotten a job before and interviewing again, they think, won’t be hard.
We teach this extensively in www.thejobsearchsolution.com. It is our online program that can teach just about anybody how to find a job. A person is much more likely to overcome their fear if they know exactly what they need to do and have practiced it over and over and over and over.
Interviewing does not come naturally or easily. Reframing stress is certainly valuable, but practicing exactly what to do and how to do it when you get in the stressful situation will make the cognitive reappraisal successful.