As entrepreneurs, no matter how long you’ve been in your industry, every now and then we feel nervous—when we are about to do that interview, when we step on the podium for a keynote we’ve been invited to, when we step into the meeting room or a coffee shop or wherever to negotiate with a potential client or business partner. It doesn’t matter how many times we’ve done it before, we still feel that way.
You know, the butterflies in your stomach, the jitters, sweaty palms, racing heartbeat. It happens to the best of us. It happens to me sometimes when I have to shoot videos.
We’ve heard many “life hacks” on how to overcome this pre-performance anxiety: empty your mind, think that the crowd is just sacks of potatoes, etc. Sometimes it works. Most of the time it doesn’t.
We feel this anxiety whenever we are about to do something that matters a lot to us. And because it matters a lot, we are afraid to fail. We also experience this when we feel like we are being evaluated and we are afraid to disappoint the audience’s expectations.
But that’s the thing. We are anxious because we care. And we’re supposed to care.
The thing about anxiety, though, is that it almost always just brings us down. The more afraid we are to mess up, the more we stumble over our words. Fear triggers our fight-or-flight response, and when half our feet want to run off the stage, out of the room, or off the camera frame, we fail to be fully present to give our best.
So, how can we combat this pre-performance anxiety? We just need to re-frame our mindset.
Fear and excitement are both states of arousal with very similar physiological manifestations. Most of the time, our brain is faulty in interpreting these physical reactions. It goes, “Our body is doing that thing when we get nervous, so we might be nervous.” And once we’ve named the feeling, we believe that feeling.
How about we do an experiment? The next time you feel nervous before that big meeting or that public speaking engagement, try to tell yourself, “I am not nervous. I am excited.” See how it changes the way you take on that task.
This is what I tell my kids when they are about to do something and they tell me, “I am nervous.” I tell them, “No, you’re not nervous. You’re excited.” And the amazing thing is that I see them change their mind and say “I’m excited,” and I would watch as they take on whatever it is they were nervous about and tackle it with excitement. Even confidence.
As Maureen Johnson says, “Anxiety and excitement are cousins; they can be mistaken for each other at points. They have many features in common—the bubbling, carbonated feel of emotion, the speed, the wide eyes, and a racing heart. But where excitement tends to take you up, into the higher, brighter levels of feelings, anxiety pulls you down, making you feel like you have to grip the earth to keep from sliding off as it turns.”
And this is what I noticed about pre-performance anxiety as well: When you focus on the thought of “I might make a mistake,” it becomes an almost overwhelming fear. But when you focus on “I am excited about the reward at the end if I manage to crush this thing,” then something changes in your performance.
You talk louder and clearer, you are more energized, you become more confident, and that energy takes you to the end of your presentation or performance, and it suddenly becomes so much easier, and it even becomes a fun experience.
What we choose to focus on, we magnify. So, the next time you have to do something that matters, something that you are nervous about, it’s okay. Acknowledge that you are nervous because you care. Then proceed to focus on winning, and you are halfway there.
Our mindset is what really matters.
Thank you for reading A Brilliant Tribe.