A major league pitcher I work with was preparing for his first World Series game. He was overly excited and rightfully so, he had been dreaming of leading his team to a World Series championship since he was a little boy. However, the night before the game, I could tell he was a little too excited and I reminded him to focus on his Ideal Arousal State or IAS.
A person’s Arousal State is essentially how amped up a person is during performance. On a scale of 1 to 10, a 1 would be trying to perform while you are half asleep and a 10 would be trying to perform after drinking thirty-five cups of coffee. You don’t want to be a 1 and you don’t want to be a 10. The pitcher knew he pitched his best when he kept his IAS at a 6; a perfect combination of calm, aggressive and confidence. He also knew that keeping his IAS at a 6 throughout the game was probably the most important thing he could do to ensure success.
The next day the pitcher felt great going through his pregame warm-up, however he had forgotten to emphasize his IAS in his mental preparation. In the first few innings, his arm felt great but he struggled throwing strikes. As he sat in the dugout between innings, it hit him that he was not keeping his IAS under control and was performing at an 8 or 9. He promptly took a few centering breaths and could feel his flow returning. He then went out, pitched several more strong innings, and lead his team to a World Series victory.
Now, most of us are not major league ball players or actors on a stage. However, I want you to think of performance in broader terms. For each time you make a sales pitch, facilitate a meeting, or participate in a performance review, you are performing.
One of the most productive methods of increasing performance success is learning how to control your Ideal Arousal State. A critical first step is to know your ideal IAS in advance of your performance. Your IAS will vary according to the nature of the task at hand, and some tasks will require a higher IAS than others. For example, you may want to be a 7 on the IAS scale to exhibit enthusiasm and positive energy when doing large group presentations, while an IAS of 5 may allow you to slow down and be more attentive during one-on-one performance reviews. There are many reasons why your IAS may change across tasks.
To get you started on learning how to control your IAS, identify what you consider to be your three most important work performances. Now identify your IAS for each of your three most important work tasks. To do this, recall a time when you performed really well for a particular task and locate it on the scale. Remember that a 1 is performing while half asleep and a 10 you would have been like running a million miles an hour.
Now that you know your IAS for the three most important career performances the trick is to learn to get yourself to that IAS state before each and every performance in the future. If you need to increase your IAS, use a specific memory from a time when you were experiencing the desired IAS number. For example if you perform your best during sales calls at an IAS of 6, then remember a time when you made a successful phone call while feeling the IAS of 6.
If you are too amped up on the IAS scale, take a centering breath where you breathe in for 6 seconds, hold for 2, and then exhale for 7 seconds. This will slow your heart rate and lower your IAS.
From now on make the commitment that you will put yourself in a position to feel your IAS before each and every performance. This will take a commitment on your part to take a few seconds before each presentation, meeting, or sales call, however, in the end your consistency and execution will dramatically increase by doing so.
Dr. Jason Selk LPC, NCC is the Director of Mental Training for the World Series winning St. Louis Cardinals and author of 10-Minute Toughness and the newly released book Executive Toughness, The Mental-Training Program to Increase Your Leadership Performance (McGraw-Hill, Nov 2011). http://www.enhancedperformanceinc.com/
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