Don't be Nervous, be Excited!

I've talked about this topic before in the book review I wrote for Daniel McGinn's book, Psyched Up, but since I believe it's such a good tip, I want to focus an entire blog post on it.

One of the most common tips given for dealing with pressure is to try to calm down and relax. While this sometimes can be great advice, other times it can backfire on you. The reason why this tip is sometimes ineffective is because going from nervousness to calmness is often too great of a leap to make, especially if you don't know how to calm down effectively. When people attempt this leap, they often fail and end up choking.

Many times, a more realistic and effective strategy is to reappraise your nervousness as excitement, embrace your adrenaline, and use it in a positive direction. The reason why this alternative tip is often more effective than explicitly trying to calm down is that nervousness and excitement are similar states, so it's easier to go from one to the other. Although a state of complete calmness can sometimes produce better performance, a state of excitement, which is a more realistic target in high pressure situations, can still produce good performance. I believe this is a great strategy to have as an option in case you're in a high pressure situation where you don't believe reaching complete calmness is attainable.

However, I also believe these two strategies can be used at the same time. For example, if you're in a pressure situation, you can first reappraise your nerves as excitement. While pumping yourself up like this can still keep your arousal level high, it will still be lower than if you remain in a nervous state of mind. Once your arousal level is lowered to a more manageable level, then it becomes easier to calm yourself down using breathing, muscle relaxation, and self-talk techniques. In this way, excitement is like a stepping stone to a more relaxed state. Along with this, excitement also provides the benefit of increasing motivation and focus and prevents you from becoming too relaxed. This mixture of calmness and excitement helps keep you at the ideal arousal level for peak performance.

As you can see, excitement can be a very helpful emotion, especially in high pressure situations. For most pressure situations, if you enter with an excited state of mind, you will most likely perform good enough. You won't always perform your best, but you'll definitely perform better than if you allow nervousness to overtake your mindset. Overall, excitement is a very reliable mental strategy for dealing with pressure. For many people, it can be a great go-to mental strategy for dealing with pressure.

So the next time your in a high pressure situation, don't be nervous, be excited! Tell yourself and tell others that you're excited for the opportunity to perform and show what you got! Think positive, and be excited about what you have to gain instead of worried about what you have to lose.

However, there are definitely times to calm your excitement and just focus on becoming as relaxed as possible. In these situations, try to be as emotionally neutral as possible while you breathe deeply, relax your muscles, and focus on the task at hand. This strategy is best for more mild pressure situations where reaching complete relaxation is both attainable and necessary. An example of a situation like this could be when a kicker in football is kicking a routine extra-point in the first quarter of a regular season game. In this situation, there's no real need for excitement, so he can just focus on remaining calm to execute as best as he can. However, if this kicker is kicking a 50 yard field-goal for the chance to win the Super Bowl, this is a completely different situation. In this situation, there's much more pressure, and the kicker is most likely feeling very nervous. Therefore, it would be smarter for the kicker to try to convert his nervousness to excitement as a way to improve his performance.

My final advice is to understand the situation you're in and use the appropriate mental strategy to help you perform as best as you can.