It’s competition day. You can feel the nerves kicking in. Your heart is beating at 500 beats per minute; your stomach feels like it’s been kicked by a kangaroo and your palms are producing enough sweat to fill an Olympic pool. We’ve all been there and experienced this (I know I have many times). Normally we think to ourselves “These nerves are horrible, I shouldn’t experience this and it will damage my performance”. Although there is some truth to this, it’s not necessarily the only truth.
One reason why our nerves may end up damaging our performance isn’t because of the nerves themselves, but because we are focusing so much on the nerves. Everyone experiences some form of nerves. It is normal to feel nerves. Whether it is performing on the platform, talking to someone new or giving a dreaded presentation, we are not shielded from experiencing nerves. The problem we have is that we think we can’t perform because we are experiencing nerves. We’ve been exposed to this story that high-level performers don’t feel nervous and that is what makes them great. That is wrong. Think about how many times you’ve been nervous and were still able to complete the task that you needed to do. What separates performers isn’t whether or not they experience nerves, but the relationship they have with nerves.
As a performer you can either see your nerves as a hindrance or a tool. As a hindrance, you may think “These nerves are going to ruin my performance”. As a tool, you may think “These nerves are giving me the energy I need to perform”. Although this is a very brief example of the two different ways you can see nerves, the basic principle is that how we see the nerves is what will impact the effect it has on our performance.
Personally, when I feel nervous (which is a lot of the time). I understand that the nerves are just a feeling I have. These nerves are there to show me that what I’m about to do matters so much that my body is getting all of its resources ready to complete the task. Although my body may be a bit overzealous when it is distributing these resources, such as the intensely high heart rate and my hands shaking, it is a sign that my body is kicking into action.
Now you may be saying, that’s easy to say but so hard to do. Of course it’s hard and a difficult thing to do. It sounds simple, because it is. However, in no way is this EASY. People have difficulty changing their relationship with so many things; such as food, our body image, romantic partners; so the relationship with our emotions, and more importantly nerves are no different. Doing something like this will take time and a realisation that we can choose how we interpret and view our nerves. When you go on the platform you may very well experience nerves, but you can choose whether these nerves are going to dictate your performance. You can choose what you tell yourself about these nerves. You can choose whether you will fall victim to the emotions you experience or if you will be victorious in your pursuit of performance in lieu of these emotions.
Take the time to log what you think about your nerves. Write down the thoughts you have about being nervous and what these nerves mean to you.
Write down alternative perspectives you can have about these nerves. You can listen to talks of other athletes who discuss their experience of being nervous and how they view their nerves to help you.
Actively introduce this perspective when you experience nerves. Use your nerves as a trigger to using this perspective. It may help to say this perspective out loud every time you experience the nerves, this can help you develop the habit of associating your nerves with that perspective.
Remember, everyone gets nervous. It’s just people’s relationship with their nerves differ.
For more articles on the psychology of performing and different mental skills, make sure to visit www.psych-chek.co.uk