Attending conferences and sporting events brings a surprise; many times accomplished speakers and elite athletes have their initial ‘yips’ and uncustomary slipups—nerves are often discernible in the cool light of day.
This is a great encouragement to us mere mortals. If the stars struggle with nerves, we too have such an agency of limitation. But such a limitation of the sympathetic nervous system is adjusted behaviourally by acting optimistically in the pressuring moment, shifting the nervous response via the parasympathetic nervous system.
These two branches of the autonomic nervous system work opposite each other. Just as one branch appears to work against us, the other works for us—to calm us when we respond with courageous calmness.
All this means is we can reverse our nerves. We can convert feelings of being overwhelmed into feelings of quick adaptation and reassuring adjustment.
Ignoring the Record of Our Nerves
The worst thing about nerves is self-consciousness. There is a positive side to our nerves, however. When our minds ignore the negative record—the self-evidence of our nerves—we can draw tremendous power from the nervousness, but it involves a mix of brute in-the-moment honesty and tempering courage.
It obviously takes a lot of courage to ignore the negative record—the imminence of sweating, red faced embarrassment, shaking, and stuttering delivery. The earlier we take control, the better.
Focusing on what we came for, and breaking the task down to its smallest components, and with a diligent honesty, we break through our nerves. Such honesty takes courage. If we are to do this, and do it as well as we can, we need to take a risk. Boldness has mastery about it.
The Central Importance of Confident Integrity
Backing up all this work of performing with honest courage is the work we do behind-the-scenes to develop confident integrity.
This is hard character work. It’s essentially about owning up to all our hidden weaknesses; knowing, as far as we can, all our vulnerabilities. Because everyone has such flaws, ours are perfectly acceptable, if, most importantly, we can accept them.
If we are our own worst judge, no amount of support will get us over the line. Performance failures will be many, because we expect to fail.
On the other hand, however, if we take our weak points in our stride we can compensate for them, again, by being honest about them from within ourselves. This way when we falter in our performance we easily adjust. We have no fear because we have no motive to hide information about ourselves. Little mistakes are easily forgivable.
Nerves get over the top of us if we mount no defence. But when we push calmly through our nerves, we find our honesty and courage is blessed.
Winning the battle of nerves is bound to be amongst our most meritorious moments.
© 2012 S. J. Wickham.