A presentation at work, a sales pitch to a potential customer, a high school game in front of college scouts, the final match at the national championships – Have you ever gotten anxious before some sort of performance? Some of you might have felt your heart rate accelerate from simply imagining yourself in those scenarios – I know I did as I was typing them out. Nerves, jitters, butterflies – they go by many names and can manifest in many ways (sweaty palms, dry throat, shaky knees – all that good stuff).
The funny thing about nerves is that they can either help or hinder your performance – and it’s up to you to figure out how to keep them within the “helping” range – or as I prefer, the “Power Range”. The tricky part is that this range is different for everyone. Some people thrive on these nerves and can channel them into positive energy, while others (that’s me!) completely crumble and let the anxiety get the best of them. So the question is: which one are you - a Thriver or a Crumbler? Both are fantastic answers – as long as you are able to identify it, own it, and use it to help you improve. Let’s focus on the first step: Identify it.
This may take a little bit of research. It’s a process of pinpointing your level of pre-performance arousal across several performances, assessing the quality of your performance in those instances, and understanding the correlations between the two. Here is one way that can help you locate your range: Before a performance/game/competition, try rating yourself on a number scale. For example, on a scale from 1 being “I’m completely apathetic about the entire universe” and 10 being “I’m so nervous (and/or excited) I’m going to die,” I would put myself at a solid 8. After the performance/game/competition, I rate myself again based on the quality at which I believe I performed. After several opportunities to track myself I can look back and identify when my highest rated performances occurred, as well as my self-identified level of arousal in that instance. Based on which level of arousal most often produced the highest quality of performance, it’s a safe bet that you have found your power range.
Now that you can determine where your range of power lies, you need to be able to find that range when it truly counts.
Bring it down. For those with a low power range, here are a few ways of bringing that level of arousal down a few notches. Ultimately, you are looking to slow down your heartrate and control the energy expenditure taking place. One way to do that is by engaging in deep breathing. This is a process of inhaling through your nose, holding it momentarily, and then exhaling through your mouth as you attempt to empty your lungs. This can even be paired with some visualization cues. What I like to do is use colors – mostly because it’s more fun, but also because it works. So the air that I am inhaling, I visualize being the color blue – representing peacefulness, calm, and confidence. As I breathe the blue in, I exhale the color red – which I choose to represent anxiety, pressure, and negativity. This way, I imagine myself physically replacing the unhelpful emotions with helpful ones. Another way to bring down your level of arousal can be reciting something meaningful, either silently or aloud. This can be a mantra that you wrote yourself, something that your coach/boss/parent used to tell you, or even something cliché that you found on Pinterest. As long as it allows you to slow down, take control, and dominate your power range – keep using it.
Pick it up. A high power range can be beneficial in that you don’t have to worry about getting too nervous or experiencing crippling anxiety, but it can be tricky on those days where you just feel low, slow-moving, and lacking energy/drive. One way to boost your arousal before a competition/performance is a pep talk. Maybe you have a friend or a teammate who has the ability to really pump people up, or maybe this is you letting yourself know that you are going to dominate today. You could also try listening to music that has a quick beat and gets you going. We often mirror the mood of the song we are listening to, and vice-versa, so pick one that’s guaranteed to set a positive and energetic tone. One last suggestion is to channel motivation from a previous success. That might mean taking a minute to write down the story of a past performance that gets you excited – use detail! This way, when you need a boost you can read it over and get amped up for another opportunity to succeed. Whether you try some of these, all of these, or you already have your own pick-me-up methods, don’t forget when and why to utilize them.
Whether yours is high, low, or somewhere in between, your power range awaits you! Find it & embrace it.