Your wedding day. A job interview. A first date. The birth of your child. Your last race.
A likely link between these seemingly random events is a well-meaning participant’s disarmingly-intoned question, “You ready for this?”
This semi-rhetorical accompaniment to the variety of stressful moments we face daily is meant to make us feel comfortable and calm at best, and at worst provide us a wallowing partner. However, most frequently it falls somewhere in between. Despite the usual smile and subtle chuckle we respond with, the question bounces around our skull leaving dents in our confidence with every ricochet.
At the heart of the question is a probing of the possible outcomes of the event. When we are asked if we are “ready” for something, we are asked to consider how certain we are of achieving the desired outcome. To be ready implies we know what is coming next and are equipped to handle it. The inherent uncertainty of these events and the attempt to foresee the outcome is the origin of anxiety which has a direct influence on our performance and experience of these events.
Yuri Hanin first presented a model of this relationship, the Individual Zone of Optimal Functioning, in 1997. Since then, we have become keenly aware of the necessity of some anxiety/arousal prior to an event to perform our best. Without enough and we feel flat and complacent. With too much, we become overwhelmed and panic-stricken. For each of us the appropriate amount of arousal to perform at our highest differs. Like the student who needs to take a few deep breaths before a test, or the sprinter who needs to jump up-and-down and shout before the starter’s gun, we each seek out our ideal level of anxiety prior to a stressful event.
The problem with the question of “readiness” is that we can never be truly “ready” for an event where we do not know the outcome. Therefore this well-intentioned ice-breaking question prompts a flood of anxiety that may or may not help us reach our Individual Zone of Optimal Functioning. In response, perhaps we would be best served to reframe the question in less uncertain terms. Instead of thinking in terms of readiness, consider your preparedness. As preparedness encourages us to look back on the actions we have already taken to ensure a satisfactory performance. While this may seem like splitting semantic hairs, it is not less of a difference than that of a PR and another fine performance.
So what should we do when the stranger standing on the start line casually leans over and quips, “You ready?” I certainly don’t suggest launching into the diatribe of the previous five paragraphs. So perhaps just disarm the anxiety bomb with the unexpected…”Nope!” and leave it at that.