Picture yourself sitting on an airplane. You’re at 10,000 feet, sitting with your legs hanging in the air, the ground far below, the air whipping around you, a parachute strapped to your back and a loud man shouting from behind you to just jump already.
That’s an extreme situation, but nerves can strike in more everyday situations too like meeting new people, job interviews, a first date or an important meeting.
When nerves hit, you feel as though you’re not up to the challenge that you find yourself faced with and if you let them, they’ll have you turning back around, running away and hiding under the bed sheets.
The good news is that you don’t have to let your nerves call the shots—here are 7 ways to overcome them.
1. Focus on Your Best
What are you like when you’re at your best? Think for a moment about the times when you’ve been at the top of your game, buzzing, flowing and feeling alive, then dive, swim and relish in how that feels.
Being at your best is about two things—bringing everything you are to the moment you find yourself in, and the absence of all the pesky fears, doubts and nerves that trip you up. That state of being at your best is always right inside you, waiting.
It’s pretty cool and when you get really familiar with how this feels you can bring it out at a moment’s notice. All it takes is a conscious, deliberate thought on your part to go there.
2. Follow Your Breath
Nerves are pernicious, sticky thoughts that spiral round and round in that wonderful brain of yours. Once they’re spinning around, it’s really tough to get out of your head, return to the moment and get back in the driver’s seat. Your breath is one of the most powerful tools for getting back on track, so the next time the nerves hit, gently shift your focus onto your breath as it moves in and out of your body.
Don’t do anything with the breath, don’t force it or try to regulate it, just notice the full duration of the in breath, wherever you feel it in your body. Keep your attention on the breath, noticing the sensations in your body as you exhale, and even the momentary pause between the in-breath and out-breath.
Your breath is a wonderful anchor to the present and, with a little practice, can cut right through your nerves.
3. Reset your Expectations
Your brain loves certainty and in an effort to try to be more certain about how things will turn out, it will create an array of expected outcomes.
These expectations will run the whole gamut between wonderful success and tragic failure, but, as it’s the more painful, negative expectations that threaten your safety, it’s those that your brain gives more focus to.
But they’re not real. They’re no more real than the Darth Vader bobble head sitting on your office desk. Once you realize you don’t need to dance to this negative tune in your head, sweeping away your expectations feels remarkably liberating.
4. Reassure Yourself
Nerves are really just stories about all the things that could go wrong; like screwing it all up, looking a fool or people thinking less of you. As stories go, they don’t have very happy endings, but in the end, they’re still just stories.
Those stories don’t have to play out, so take a moment to reassure yourself. You’ve come this far and you’re still okay. You’ve faced challenges before and come through just fine. This will be okay too. You’ll be fine, whatever happens, you’ll get through it and live another day.
5. Normalize Rejection
Rejection sure feels nasty doesn’t it? As experiences go, it’s pretty awful, but that’s only because we’re wired to think that it’s “bad”. Truth is, nobody goes through life without rejection featuring in some measure, and a life spent avoiding rejection is a life spent unlived.
Fearing rejection will pile on the pressure and crank up those nerves, but what if rejection wasn’t so bad? What if it didn’t mean that you were less than or not good enough, but simply meant that it didn’t work out this time around?
Rejection is just something that happens from time to time, rather than something that diminishes your value.
6. Choose Which Thoughts you Honor
What do you hear in your head when the nerves hit? I can’t do this. This is horrible. I’m not good enough. What if I screw it up? I don’t want to be here.
Familiar, right? If there’s one thing your brain’s good at, it’s making thoughts. It does it all day long, whether you want them or not. A thought about what you had for dinner last night, a thought about the room you’re about to nervously enter, a thought about that funny thing your friend said, a thought about how you might feel if you get it wrong.
They’re all just thoughts, and the thought that trumps them all is the one that decides which ones you trust and honor. Which ones are you going to listen to?
7. Practice More for Next Time
It’s true that the more you do something, the better you get. Whether it’s cooking the perfect piece of fish, running or playing the banjo, you always start from scratch, give it a shot, practice some more and get better.
Your skills and capabilities continually evolve and the more you practice, the more accustomed you get and the more effective you become.
So, when starting out with something that makes you nervous, be ready for the initial awkwardness and those rookie nerves, then seek out opportunities to practice, learn and grow.