Change the Song in your Head

Listening to Music with HeadphonesYou get two ideas for the price of one in this blog post: how to get an annoying song out of your head and how to get in the right frame of mind for that high-stakes meeting or presentation. The technique is the same for both.

We all occasionally get a tune stuck in our minds, nurse one that plays endlessly and annoyingly despite our best efforts to try to get rid of it. In fact, the more we fight it, the deeper it gets entrenched. I’ve found a simple way to solve the problem: substitution.

You can’t fight the loop going through your head, because paying it attention just feeds it. So, what I do is choose a different tune and play that in my head for a minute or two. You can’t play two tunes at once, so the new tune pushes out the old bothersome one. Many times, one substitution is all you need, and the new tune quickly fades out – but the old one is gone.

Of course, you run the danger of having the new tune take root and become just as irritating, so if it persists more than a minute or two, just pick a different tune and try again. The trick is not to let the new one stick in your mind for very long.

So what does this have to do with getting in the right frame of mind for a presentation? If you get nervous before a presentation, it’s hard to get that feeling out of your mind, and telling yourself that you’re confident only makes you more anxious.

But just like your brain can only play one tune at a time, you can only feel one emotion at a time. So the same trick applies: substitute a powerful or confident emotion for the anxious one. This is a little harder, but still easily within your power to do. Get your mind into the right emotional state by recalling a time when you felt strong and confident, or when you were excited to deliver good news to someone. Excitement is especially powerful because the physical feeling is almost identical to what you feel when you’re nervous.

Actors know it as the “offstage beat”, according to Nick Morgan in his book, Power Cues. They evoke the necessary emotion for the scene before going on stage, so when the time comes, they are not “acting” – the emotion they show is genuine. They’re not thinking about the audience’s reactions, or that they may be nervous, because they only have room for one emotion at a time.

Just like the song in your head, if you can’t turn it off, at least you can change the station!

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