Writing may be a very effective way to boost your performance in pressure-filled situations such as difficult conversations, suggests research out of The University of Chicago’s Human Performance Lab.
Even ten minutes of expressive writing (writing about your thoughts and feelings) immediately before a high-stress event can have a big impact on your anxiety level and on your performance says Psychology professor Sian Beilock, author of Choke: What the Secrets of the Brain Reveal About Getting It Right When You Have To.
Why does something as simple as writing about your thoughts and feelings offer such a performance boost? It’s got to do with freeing your mind to put its resources where you need them most when you’re under pressure — on acing the test, nailing the interview, or keeping your calm and focus during a difficult conversation. When you worry about what’s ahead, the anxiety can deplete some of your brains “processing power,” or working memory.
The content of the writing also has something to do with it, says Beilock:
Writing reduces people’s tendency to ruminate because it provides them with an opportunity to express their concerns. Expressing concerns gives people some insight into the source of their stress, allowing them to reexamine the situation such that the tendency to worry during the actual pressure-filled situation decreases.
The takeaways if you want to try this before a difficult conversation? This is what I tell my clients and grad students:
1. The writing must be expressive, that is, it must focus on your thoughts and feelings about the upcoming event.
2. The benefits come from doing the writing just before the event.
3. Allow yourself enough time to write for at least 10 minutes.
4. Then put it away and get your conversation started.