“People who say they’re not nervous – I would be kind of curious to see how successful you are at what you do and how long you’ve done it…Have you separated yourself from everyone else in that craft? Or have you settled amongst the pack?”
Randy Johnson (Major League Baseball Pitcher, 2001 World Series MVP)
“The higher your energy level, the more efficient your body. The more efficient your body, the better you feel and the more you will use your talent to produce outstanding results.”
Tony Robbins (Author, Awaken the Giant Within)
“I have a lot of nervous energy. Work is my best way of channelling that into something productive unless I want to wind up assaulting the postman or gardener.”
Ben Stiller (Comedian, The Secret Life of Walter Mitty)
I think there’s too much saliva in my mouth.
Yep, definitely too much saliva.
This is what I was thinking as I ran up to the park to meet my “girlfriend.”
The park was next to this old run down brick school that was all boarded up.
I was only in the 7th grade and I was really nervous because I’d never seen her outside of school.
And she asked me on the phone the other day if I had ever kissed anyone.
I said no.
Then she said no when I asked.
We decided to meet the next day at the park because her parents were visiting right across the street.
Her and her friend would meet me at the fire escape stairs that still hung down on one side of the building.
There she was. Sitting on the stairs.
Suddenly my mouth was like the Sahara desert.
We talked about whatever 7th graders talk about as I paced in front of the stairs.
She sat there calmly.
Eventually I got my nerve up and kissed her.
I wasn’t sure what to do after so I ran up to the top of the stairs and back down like an idiot.
She stayed seated.
Why was I such a dork?
How good was my kiss?
A Lazy Mind Is Nervous
Most men (85%) and women (94%) approached their very first kiss with anxiety, dread, and other negative emotions.
This is according to a study done at California State University in Los Angeles.
Maybe you’re old and have kissed so many people that you don’t remember being scared. But you probably were.
The numbers don’t lie.
People are scared of all kinds of simple things. This is because fear is automatic and often irrational.
Surveys show that most people would rather die than speak in front of a crowd.
But you don’t have to be irrational. You don’t have to be afraid.
Instead, you can train your mind to dominate fear.
You learn use fear and other forms of nervous energy to your advantage.
Fear can lead to pleasure.
Achievement and fulfillment are often on the other end of nervous energy.
A kiss, for example, is like a drug thanks to a neurotransmitter called dopamine.
Dopamine is involved in sensations of reward.
It can make you want something so badly that you experience feelings of euphoria, insomnia, and loss of appetite.
Studies show that people who take a lot of risks, like entrepreneurs and skydivers, have similarly high levels of dopamine activity.
Risk leads to reward.
The only thing standing in the way is fear.
Fear …Or Excitement?
Imagine you’re a young guy crossing a long, narrow Indiana Jones-type suspension bridge made up of nothing but rope and wooden boards 230 feet above a river in Canada.
Let’s say you get half way across the bridge and suddenly an attractive woman appears out of nowhere (you were too busy looking down and squeezing the rope handrails to notice).
She asks you to complete a survey.
After you complete it, she gives you her phone number and says she’ll explain it in greater detail if you call.
Would you call her?
This exact scenario was set up by Donald Dutton and Aron Arthur as part of a study they later published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology.
They found that young men who met the woman while crossing the bridge were much more likely to call her than young men who met the woman after crossing the bridge (the control group).
The men who met the woman in the middle of the bridge were experiencing a rush of nervous energy that they would’ve normally identified as fear.
But because they were talking to an attractive woman, they mistakenly identified their nervous energy as attraction.
How you interpret nervous energy determines how it affects you.
If you interpret nervous energy as fear, you’re going to be afraid.
If you interpret it as attraction or excitement, you’re going to be attracted or excited.
Dominating Nervous Energy
Pretend you’re strapped headfirst into a functional MRI machine.
Your brain activity is being measured.
Then someone shows you a picture of either an angry face or a frightened face and tells you to match it to another angry or frightened face.
I doubt you’d have any problems matching the faces.
But while you were matching the faces, your amygdala (the part of your brain that controls strong emotional responses like fear) would be very active.
Now, imagine you’re back in the MRI machine.
But this time someone shows you a picture of an angry or frightened face and asks you to identify the emotion expressed on the face by saying the words angry or scared.
Here’s the strange part…
Labeling the faces as angry or scared made your amygdala less active than when you were matching the faces.
Saying angry or scared controlled your emotions.
Naming is power.
The above study was performed by researchers at the UCLA School of Medicine and published in Neuroreport.
The study shows that you can control your emotional reactions simply by naming them.
In other words…
You can change your emotional experience by talking about it.
This can be done through conversation, self-talk, or journaling.
The first step to dominating nervous energy is to name it.
Next, you have to channel it. Here’s how…
1. Of course you’re nervous—you’re lazy and unprepared.
The biggest reason that people get nervous is because they’re unprepared.
They’re afraid to get on stage because they don’t know enough about the topic they’re presenting or they haven’t practiced it enough.
They’re afraid to fly because they don’t know how much turbulence is normal, when turbulence is likely to happen, or what the mechanical noises during takeoff and landing mean.
They’re afraid of having a heart attack because they’ve never had their blood lipid profiles checked, or they’re not living their life the way they know they should and don’t want to die before getting it right.
You get it.
Knowledge is power. It’s an old line but very true.
If you’re nervous about something, don’t stay nervous.
Don’t wallow in despair and fear.
Take responsibility. Get to work. Research.
The more you understand the situation and the more you name what’s going on, the less nervous you’ll be.
2. If you’re not nervous, you’re not doing it right.
When the stakes are high, you will get anxious.
No matter what.
A study by T.M. McMillan and S.J. Rachman at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver showed that new paratrooper trainees experience the following symptoms prior to jumping out of a plane at night…
Sweating, dry mouth, hot face, flushing, pounding heart, and trembling.
Here’s the surprising part…
Veteran paratroopers who had been jumping out of airplanes for decades experienced the exact same symptoms.
Courageous people are normal people who channel nervous energy better.
If you’re not anxious before doing something that matters, something is wrong.
Preparation is important but it only goes so far.
Knowledge and naming will help control your emotional response, they won’t help you eliminate the response altogether.
This is why channeling is so important.
The key to dominating negative energy is resetting your expectations.
You are going to get nervous. You are going to experience symptoms of physiological arousal.
If you fight these symptoms, you’ll fail.
If you channel them, you’ll excel.
Expect to experience nervous energy.
Channel it into excitement and into a heightened state of awareness.
You can reverse this too.
If you’re not feeling sufficiently energized about something that matters, raise the stakes.
Apply social pressure by telling others about it.
Take away whatever safety net you’re relying on so you have to either succeed or fail hard.
Create your own nervous energy so you can harness it.
3. Start before you’re ready because you’ll never be ready.
Knowledge, naming, and feeling are not enough.
You have to act.
Preparation and expectation will help you control your nervous energy, but you still have to channel it.
The problem is that most people never channel. They just feel.
They’ll feel nervous about something. Do nothing. Then applaud themselves when their nervousness finally fades away.
Waiting out fear is not a victory.
Getting through a stressful situation is not a win.
The goal is not to survive life, it’s to thrive.
The goal is to grow.
To experience peak moments again and again.
Here’s the key…
You can’t have a peak moment in life without experiencing nervous energy.
Stop seeing fear and anxiety as villains.
They’re you’re best friends. Without them, life would be boring and average.
With them, life can be legendary.
Check out my book of personal and professional advice, Black Hole Focus: How Intelligent People Create A Powerful Purpose For Their Lives.