Do you let nerves get in the way? When nervousness strikes, is that a green light or a red light? Do you see nerves as bad or that something is wrong? Are nerves something only people lacking confidence feel? Are confident, powerful people without fear?
Nerves are something I have struggled with for many years and many of my clients find that too. For a long time I thought nerves were a bad sign, a red light, telling me to stop, when in fact they can be a green light, a signal that you are on the right lines, that you are doing something important, significant and meaningful.
Threats of the modern world
Let’s look at what the biology tells us about nerves and fear. At a primal level, your brain is programmed to do one of two things. Either to move towards something that brings benefit and pleasure or to move away from something that is dangerous and may harm you. In the caveman’s world, this was the difference between survival and extinction. In the modern world, there are shades of grey that the brain finds difficult to distinguish. When you feel threatened by something, no matter what it is, your brain kicks in this primal programming to stay and fight, or to run away.
Yet, there are many situations that may feel threatening in the modern world that you neither need to stick around and fight over, nor run away from, even though your brain and body might be reacting that way. Now it comes down more to what you perceive as threat, so that you have choice over how you respond.
What is that nervous feeling?
“Nerves” is a common name used to describe a physiological response to threat. Clammy hands, racing heart, quickened breath and a sick feeling, are common symptoms. Usually you experience these when you feel at risk or threatened. You are about to:
- have a challenging conversation with someone
- step on stage and perform
- speak in public
- compete in a competition
- give someone bad news
Will you make mistakes, make a fool of your self or fail? People may think badly of you, dislike or hate you, think you unprofessional or incompetent? Will you be laughed at, ridiculed or even humiliated? All legitimate fears, worries and concerns based on previous experience.
Something that to a greater or lesser extent, we all experience, no matter how seasoned, no matter how confident. I have always been intrigued by the fact that performers of all kinds say that they are nervous before they go on stage and that makes them perform better. Without nerves, their delivery is flat. So what is that?
What are nerves telling you?
I believe that this thing that makes you nervous is important to you. It is important to get it right. Your body is doing whatever it can to help you with that. Nerves is a sign that your body is getting ready to deliver on something, perform well and do the best it can. So please do not think this is a bad sign, it is a great sign. This is the green light you want. Now you want to learn how to manage that feeling so that you don’t let it take over.
Here are 7 suggestions that work for me. There are many more so don’t see this as a definitive list. Look around for your own answers and above all, learn from experience.
- Prepare your self adequately. Do your best to prepare what you are delivering. If it is speaking in public, know your subject, having practiced many times before (don’t learn a script word for word though- more on that later). Is it a challenging conversation? Rehearse it as best you can, be aware of the key points. If it’s a competition, knowing your routine, knowing you’re fit enough, strong enough and capable is essential.
- Deliver with authenticity. Speak and perform from the heart in a way that feels like you. There is nothing worse than trying to be someone or something you are not. Even actors connect to their own authentic experience when portraying a character or an emotion. Do not regurgitate a script, know what you want to say and then speak spontaneously. More of your genuine self will come across and people will see the real you.
- You won’t please everyone. Not all people will like your message. Of course it hurts when you become aware of it. Don’t let that contribute to the nerves. I have heard that in any audience, you will have a 40%, 40%, 20% breakdown of people: 40% will love what you’re saying before you start; 40% are open and can be won over and; 20% will disagree. The figures may vary, but in essence there will be those that do not agree with your view. Know that and allow it to be OK.
- Managing how far this situation takes you out of your comfort zone can help you control nerves. I have written about this before. The rule is, playing it safe never produces nerves and so never your best performance. Pushing too far out of your comfort zone rarely brings great results. Only by managing your self just outside your comfort zone will you challenge your self enough to get the best from your self.
- How does your body help you deliver your best results? I am a physical person. Doing martial arts for over 25 years, my body likes to move. I find clarity and stillness in movement. Often when I speak in public or brainstorm ideas in a meeting, I am moving and it helps my mind create answers and perform well. When I am listening to others such as when I am coaching, it works better for me to be still, allowing me to be receptive. These are two of the ways my body helps me. I know other people who have to be still to be creative and brainstorm ideas- it is as if the stillness of their body allows them to be become aware of what is happening in their minds. I do not work that way. It can be helpful with nerves to recognise the strategies you can use with your body to help deliver.
- Get going. Just start. So often the anticipation of something is more nerve racking than the event itself. Once you get into the flow, the nerves take a back seat. You might be aware of them in the background and they may come to the fore from time to time. If so, have ways to get you back on track. Use bullet points to remind you and other memory aids. I find transparency helps a lot as well. Just own up to the fact that the nerves have got the better of you and that can have a calming effect.
- Have conviction in what you are saying or doing. You have the right to be heard and seen. Your opinion is as valid as anyone else’s. One of the voices of your saboteur is to question “Who the hell are you to say……?” This makes you nervous as you move towards self- doubt. Yet the truth is by speaking or acting with authenticity and having belief in what you are saying or doing or being, you are fully justified in being there and saying your piece.
Over to you
What is your experience of managing your nerves? How have these points helped you in dealing with your feelings of nervousness? What other suggestions would you add? As ever, I would love to hear from you so please post your comments in the box at the bottom of the page. By sharing your experience, you can contribute to an on- line resource that can support people as they learn to manage their nerves and overall confidence.
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