Dr. Don Greene doesn't dance, play musical instruments, or compete on an Olympic track. But he has successfully coached more than 1,000 professional dancers and musicians to nail competitive auditions and land dream jobs. Of the Olympic athletes he has coached, 14 have won medals, five of them gold.
Greene is a peak performance psychologist who helps elite athletes and performers train their minds to stay sharp under pressure. Here is how his methods can help you prep for any nerve-wracking performance, whether it's a pitch to investors or a public speaking engagement.
Pump yourself up in practice sessions.
Greene was recently a guest on Slate's How To! Podcast, where he spoke with a bassist who was prepping for an audition with the Chicago Lyric Opera. He had the bassist do jumping jacks before every practice session.
Doing a vigorous activity boosts your heart rate. You'll feel energized. Then, do your practice run without stopping. Keep going if you stumble. If you want to analyze your slip-ups, record yourself and listen later.
Greene tells his clients to perform with reckless abandon during these sessions. By learning how to loosen up in practice, Greene's clients begin to train their bodies and minds to do the same on game day.
"This is how you gain control," Greene explains. "By letting go of control and not over controlling."
Don't try to ignore your nerves.
"Just relax" is futile advice. Bottling up your nervous energy simply won't work.
"If this is at all important to you, the adrenaline is going to kick in," Greene told the bassist prepping for the big audition. Treat adrenaline as your friend, and harness it.
Greene encourages his clients to channel nervous energy into momentum. Instead of trying to ignore adrenaline, try to redirect that it as energy to fuel your performance.
Don't strive for perfection.
Elite athletes and musicians tend to analyze every micro-movement over and over again, striving to make everything perfect. This obsessiveness helped them get to the top of their fields. But those perfectionist tendencies can become crippling when they're in the spotlight.
Strive for excellence, not perfection, Greene says. Stick to what you can control. Let everything else go. Winning, for example, is not something you can control. You don't know how your competition will perform or what mood your audience will be in. So try not to fixate on those things.
Celebrate your successes.
When it's all over, take time to celebrate what you did well. Our minds have a tendency to focus on the mess-ups. To counteract those negative thoughts, write down the things you did well. Try to do this even if you didn't get the outcome you hoped for. "As long as you did better this time than you did last time, you were a success," Greene says.
So, pump yourself up, channel that nervous energy, strive for excellence instead of perfection, and praise what you did well to best prepare for the inevitable next time you'll need to perform under pressure.