By Leslie Becker-Phelps, PhD
It is natural to feel nervous before going on a first date with someone new. Every first date has the potential of being the beginning of something special, so of course you want to make a good impression. For some people, the pressure can get a little nerve wracking. If that’s you, here are some thoughts to keep in mind when you feel the first-date jitters.
According to researcher Alison Wood Brooks (Journal of Experimental Psychology: General, 2013), the best strategy for performance anxiety is not to suppress your feelings, but to reappraise them as excitement. She points out that most people try to calm themselves when they are anxious, but this is difficult to do and rarely works. So, in the end, the anxiety remains – often increasing – and then tends to harm performance and self-confidence. By contrast, reframing anxiety as excitement is easier to do, can create a positive mindset and can improve performance. Brooks found that reappraising anxiety in this way improved performance in the areas of singing, public speaking, and math performance. In these situations, people were able to gain a new perspective on their emotionally threatening task by viewing it as an opportunity.
Similar to the tasks in these studies, when you are preparing for a date, it can feel emotionally threatening. You are putting yourself “out there”, and there’s the possibility of rejection. But instead of focusing on the risk, you can choose to think about the situation as an opportunity to find your next partner, or maybe even just meet someone interesting, learn new things, or gain more dating experience. This can change your perspective from just wanting to avoid harm to being hopeful about possibilities. The feelings may still be strong, but you are more likely to proactively create a better outcome.
To get yourself into this positive mindset, consciously recognize a potential positive outcome and tell yourself that you are excited about it. You can also encourage yourself to get excited. If you know something about the person that makes him or her more interesting, think about that. Remind yourself that your friend who set you up thinks this is a great match. Or, think about how you find your date’s career or hobbies to be interesting. In other words, choose to focus on positives that can help you to feel more excited.
The truth is that a date is an opportunity. It may or not go well. However, it’s a chance to meet someone new. And if it doesn’t go well, what have you lost – a few hours? You may find it helpful to think about this like playing the lottery. While you may not win, there is excitement in just playing. And you could hit it big!
The Art of Relationships blog posts are for general educational purposes only. They may or may not be relevant for your particular situation; and they should not be relied upon as a substitute for individual professional advice, diagnosis, or treatment. If you need help for an emotional or behavioral problem, please seek the assistance of a psychologist or other qualified mental health professional.