In a 2005 study by J. David Creswell, et al., they tested a new approach for reducing speech anxiety. Specifically, before giving a speech, they asked participants to reflect on a value that resonated with them. After reflecting on this value, the core-value-affirming participants were significantly lesser stressed than control participants, who had reflected on a value that wasn’t particularly important to them. (Although speech anxiety is what’s relevant here, a followup study found that this technique also worked for students preparing for a stressful exam—even when the value-affirmation occurred two weeks before the exam! Other studies have found that self-affirmation can improve our problem-solving abilities and increase our sense of meaning in life.)
Writing about these studies in Presence: Bringing Your Boldest Self to Your Biggest Challenges, Amy Cuddy notes that what’s surprising here is that “the participants affirmed their personal core values—not values or abilities that were relevant to the stressful tasks at hand. People didn’t need to convince themselves that they were good public speakers in order to be confident about giving a speech; they just needed to have shored up an important part of their best selves—such as ‘I value being creative and making art.'”
Before you give your next speech (or engage in any stressful task), these studies suggest that it will pay to take a moment to reflect on the values you most believe in, reaffirming your best self. By doing so, you’ll be even more likely to become it.