With less than fifty days to go before election day, it's crunch time for presidential candidates Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump.

The pressure is on to make a great performance at the upcoming debates, especially given that each candidate is struggling with public perception. Clinton is still not seen as honest and trustworthy by many, while others are pleading with Donald Trump to act more "presidential."

These debates are a major opportunity for either candidate to seize a definitive lead and show exactly how they compare to the other. There's no doubt they've been preparing for this moment for a while now, but what could they do to gain a competitive edge?

Here are 5 critical suggestions:

1. Think of it as a challenge.

One of the most important things the candidates can do is approach the debate as a challenge instead of a threat.

In a 2010 study by Alter et al., Princeton students were presented with a test of GRE questions. Half of the students were influenced to see the questions as a threat--a test of whether they truly belonged at such a prestigious university. The other half of the students took the questionnaire under a challenge context--the researchers presented the questions as "brainteasers." The results are fascinating: under a threat context, students answered 72% of the questions correctly, while under the challenge context, they answered 90% correctly.

This finding shows just how much mindset affects our performance. If the candidates feel threatened, they are only going to stress themselves out more and prime themselves to perform poorly. Instead, they should focus on seeing the debates as a fun challenge.

2. Get enough sleep.

This isn't a big surprise, but given that the candidates have dedicated over a year to one of the most intense presidential campaign seasons in history, we need to say it again. Sleep is non-negotiable to success.

Sleep affects nearly every single bodily function, and it has a direct effect on performance. We need sleep to flush out toxins in the brain, and inadequate sleep leads to a loss in focus, concentration, reason, memory, and good judgment. A sleep-deprived candidate means they won't be able to properly synthesize information and give thoughtful, engaging answers.

3. Understand their impact.

When you're running for President of the United States, you know you are dedicating your work to positively impact hundreds of millions of people. But this is a truth that probably gets lost in the hustle and grind of the day-to-day when you're campaigning.

According to studies by psychologist Adam Grant, performance skyrockets for those who take time to understand the impact of their work. When you meet with the people you help and hear their stories of how you've positively affected them, you are much more motivated, productive, and effective in your work. If Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton really want to shine during the debates, they should take time to reconnect with the impact of their work.

4. Focus on their presence.

This is a big one, because you won't be effective in communication if you aren't connected to yourself and how you're presenting yourself.

Trump is known for his big ego, but ego is significantly different from presence. According to psychologist Amy Cuddy, she defines presence as

"The state of being attuned to and able to comfortably express our true thoughts, feelings, values and potential". She goes on to say, "When we feel present, our speech, facial expressions, postures, and movements align. That internal convergence, that harmony, is palpable and resonant - because it's real. It's what makes us compelling. We are no longer fighting ourselves, we are being ourselves".

Presence comes from knowing who you are and being authentically connected to your core message. In short, you have to believe in what you're saying, and not just say it for the cameras.

5. Enjoy the process.


This sounds counter-intuitive, but the candidates would do well to enjoy the debate without thinking about the outcome. When you focus on having fun and optimizing happiness, you're in a much better state for creativity and collaboration, which can lead to breakthrough ideas and connection with the audience. Also, if the candidates come across as too focused on winning, they risk not looking presidential.