Ah nerves. If you’re anything like me, they’ve sabotaged you once, twice, three times…
Flashback to an eager, studious (some may say “nerdy”) 14-year old girl taking the specialized high school entrance exam in New York City, and you can hear my heart pounding and see my tears running down my face as I struggled to finish the exam.
Panicking that I’d fallen behind and just wouldn’t have enough time to finish the test, I filled in the multiple choice answers randomly without even reading the questions.
I had given up about half way through the exam. The glass was completely empty, never mind half-empty or half-full.
Although I’m not that terrified 14-year old anymore, this moment has repeated itself many times throughout my life: SATs, GMATs, job interviews, speaking events, networking events.
It seems that once I hit that moment of fear, I lose all optimism and everything turns into a downward spiral of ramble.
The after effect? Shame, and lack of confidence that spills over into other areas of my life.
Despite the struggles that have resulted from the fear, the nerves, the worry of looking stupid, I’ve come out of it alive. More importantly, it hasn’t stopped me from pushing forward with my goals because I know where there’s a problem there’s also a solution.
Perhaps your fear isn’t this bad (I hope), or maybe it’s even worse. Regardless, it’s important to prevent our nerves from sabotaging us however big or small so that we can perform at our best. It’s in those moments, when we’re in the zone, that we’re making the greatest impact we can make.
Here are two ways to keep your nerves in check when the pressure to perform is on.
Lead with Curiosity
Before a big meeting, a speaking event, an interview, are you thinking,
“I’m so nervous. Stop being nervous…stop it…stop…”
It’s like a never-ending loop. Your focus and presence are on the nerves, the fear, the worry.
What value can we contribute when we’re in this state of mind? We can’t offer value at our full capacity.
What if we shift from a place of fear to a place of curiosity? What if instead of thinking about ourselves and the results, we ask ourselves, “What do I need to do to get the job done? What can I learn here? How can I grow?”
This is especially powerful if you align your questions with what’s important to you (i.e. growth).
For example, you’ve been leading a big project at work and are presenting to upper management. The CEO will be there. (Insert high-pressure feeling and the intense need to impress and shine.)
Be present in the meeting. What’s your agenda? What are you trying to accomplish? How can you serve?
This can be even more powerful if you tie it to something really important to you. For example, perhaps the project you’re working on is important to you personally (i.e. you’re presenting a budget for a social impact initiative).
If the project doesn’t personally resonate, maybe you can tap into one of your goals. Have you been looking for a new challenge? How can you leverage this opportunity to meet that need?
And remember, you’re not that important. No one is thinking about you as much as you’re thinking about you.
Befriend the Fear
When prepping for a big event a few months ago, I pictured myself standing up on stage, voice shaking, a big crowd staring at me, and my mind going blank. Challenging ourselves to step outside of our comfort zones can be such a drag.
Then I stumbled on “How to Overcome Fear of Public Speaking with Josh Pais.”
We often associate feeling nervous with negativity. What if we love the fear? What if we welcome it and accept it?
I know it’s easier said than done. But energy, whether nervous or not, cannot be destroyed.
Josh Pais, American acting coach and film and television actor, says “You’re a vibrator.”
What he means is we’re made up of a mass of atoms, and emotions are simply vibrations in different parts of our body.
Nerves simply mean we’re alive. This is something to simply appreciate rather than fight.
Befriend the fear, be grateful for it, and get back to the present. A shaky voice and a little ramble here and there does not mean you don’t have any value to offer. Focus on the service and the impact you want to make.
I’d love for you to share your experience with fear. Was there a time when fear got in your way of succeeding? How did you overcome it?