“The truly educated never stop learning.”—A bumper sticker in San Ramon, CA

This week, I started work on a new project with a client. I spent the last day and a half either reading materials previously foreign (or largely so) to me or attending meetings. There’s a lot to learn: new phrases and acronyms, names, roles and responsibilities, and lots of new information. Several meetings also made clearer what I already knew—that there are high expectations of my ability to deliver great results. As I reflected on the learning in front of me and on the expectations for my performance, I began to feel a bit anxious.

Suddenly it hit me. “I’ve felt this type of anxiousness before,” I thought to myself. I remembered back to the start of each college semester. The first day of each class went much the same way. Get the syllabus, learn about the assignments, receive an overview of the course, and figure out the professor’s expectations.

The anxiousness I felt was related to the same three factors I face today: lots of learning to do, high expectations being set, and a short time frame for both.

Learning from the past
This insight has helped me lower my anxiety and put things into perspective more quickly than I might have otherwise. By reflecting on my (mostly positive) experiences at the beginning of each semester, here’s what I’m doing in my current situation:

  1. Taking a deep breath. This type of mental pause helps me gain better perspective. When the anxiousness grows, I stop, breath, and then carry on.
  2. Thinking of past successes. Thankfully, I’ve had successes both scholastically and professionally in situations where I’ve dealt with lots of new information. When I remember those successes, it builds my confidence that I can do it again.
  3. Picking up my pen. When I start laying out a plan, I begin to feel better. This plan includes expectations, roles, content to be mastered, timelines, and so on. I use a project approach to this learning challenge.
  4. Eating the elephant. The only way to eat an elephant is one bite at a time. The plan helps me identify specific tasks that need to be done. Once I have a list of tasks, even if the list isn’t complete, I can begin to eat the elephant, one bite at a time.

Reduce your anxiety

“The secret of getting ahead is getting started. The secret of getting started is breaking your complex overwhelming tasks into small manageable tasks, and then starting on the first one.”—Mark Twain

These steps have helped me in the past. I know they can help me again. Today is proving it already. I know the project will be a success. I know there is a lot to learn, but that’s okay. I wouldn’t be happy with my work if I weren’t learning every day.

I encourage you to think about how you successfully deal with this kind of situation. I encourage you to think about and apply the steps listed above. Add or modify the list based on your experience and success. Reducing your negative anxiety level will, in itself, raise your chances for success. Take the time to think it through. Follow a plan and have fun.

This approach will reduce your anxiety in a new client situation, allowing you to be more effective and client-focused. If you have other strategies you’d recommend, I’d love to hear about them—and write about them in a future article.

Kevin Eikenberry is president of the Discian Group, a learning consulting company in Indianapolis. If you’d like tocomment on this article or have questions for Kevin, send us a note.

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