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  • Writer's pictureCarol Alford

Use your Nerves to Improve your Performance

Does your performance suffer when you start getting nervous? The chances are this happens to most of my readers out there. I see it regularly with people performing in sport, giving talks or sitting exams. It's crazy that when we remove the pressure the same people when asked to perform the same tasks can do so easily, but as soon as the situation cranks up the pressure to do well, the nerves kick in and they go to pieces. In severe instances they can actually freeze and find it difficult to carry out the simplest of tasks. If this is you, then read on, you're going to find this article interesting and may be surprised at how easily you can change the situation. I've written previously on how the body reacts to a perceived threat. Causing the familiar feelings of a racing heart, breathe becoming quicker and shorter, butterflies in our stomach or our mouths becoming increasingly dry and finding it difficult to swallow with ease. All of which are normal responses as our bodies prepare to fight or flee. We have also over the years been conditioned to try and suppress these feelings, interpreting them as being a bad thing and harmful to our performance. Latest research is telling us that suppressing those feelings actually makes the situation worse. When faced with pressure we perceive this scenario as being potentially detrimental to our safety or performance. The feelings we experience we interpret as being unable to cope; that we are inept or lacking in skills, which only compounds the issue by creating more stress and anxiety. We have been preprogrammed to take control of the situation by telling ourself or others to calm down, believing that hearing these words will soothe us and remove the conflict. Sadly this is not an effective strategy it has the opposite effect, reinforcing our fear that we are out of control and ill equipped to deal with the situation. What's the Research? Jeremy Jamieson, the Director of Rochester University Social Stress Lab carried out an interesting piece of research on a group of students using the Reappraisal Process. This process changes the way in which we view a pressurised situation. Rather than seeing it in a negative way, it normalises it by getting the person to see it as part of the process of getting ready to perform. They are encouraged not to become anxious but instead to embrace the moment. Jeremy's research took two groups of students who were about to take final year mock exams. The first group with no intervention were left to sit the exams as normal. They were allowed to prepare as normal and experience all the usual feelings we have no doubt also experienced when sitting exams. The second group were taken through the Reappraisal Process, Both groups of students had received the same tutoring over the years and had similar IQ's and so were deemed to be of equal knowledge and ability. The results however were outstanding, all the students in the second group who followed the Reappraisal Process had better results than those in the first group. They later discovered that this effect wasn't limited to that one event, both groups sat their final exams 2 months later and the second group who used the process out performed the first group again. Further studies have since been carried out and all have shown using the Reappraisal Process to be effective with lasting results. How does it work? We can not change how our bodies react to a perceived threat, its hard wired into our systems and therefore is our body's natural defence mechanism. However, we can take control on how we respond to those feelings, by removing the stigma that something is wrong. If we begin to see the situation as normal and not abnormal, we learn to accept that it's part of the process. We can then begin to see that this reaction is actually a good thing, in that its our body getting ready to react in a positive way. It's like cranking up the volume on the radio to your favourite song. So next time you find yourself in a pressurised position, instead of telling yourself to calm down, say this is perfectly normal. Embrace the moment, feel the excitement as you prepare your body to get ready, in return it will support you. Own it. Normalise it. Feed off the energy and you will find your focus will intensify on the task and as a consequence your performance will be outstanding. Give it a go and let me know how you get on. If your would like more information on these techniques please contact me to arrange a session

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