What are Pre-Performance Nerves?
One of the most frustrating things that can happen to you as a high performer is getting to the day of a performance feeling nervous! Listen, it happens, but if you’re truly going to get rid of your pre-performance nerves, then we must talk straight.
Here’s the truth: from all the high performers I’ve worked with, about 95% of the “pre-performance nerves” cases that I’ve helped resolve has never been about nerves and has actually been about a lack of proper preparation and walking into performance with an unsure mindset.
As a result, you start to feel nervous, question yourself, and wonder if you’re “truly ready for performance.” Think about it, you’ve been in this situation before - you almost have a feeling of guilt on the day of performances knowing that you didn’t do everything you possibly could to prepare yourself, and it causes you to get into a mindset where you’re simply lacking focus, uncertain, and lack direction.
So if we’re going to do this right, then we must truly learn how to get rid of pre-performance nerves and not just “cope,” with them, because coping simply means we’re going to accept that this is okay and not do anything about it. That’s not how we operate.
What we need to do is learn how to get into a mindset of peak performance, or how to get into a peak performance state.
A Peak Performance State
Operating at a peak state is exhilarating, life-changing, and unlike anything else you’ve experienced in life! It’s being able to deliver the same result, with high levels of excellence, over and over again, no matter what. Being in a state of peak performance is when you’re certain that you’re going to get the result and excited to perform. You’re in control of your emotions, have a mindset of excellence, and are focused on the task at hand. It pulls together your physical and mental capabilities, allowing you to execute without having to think. It’s a point where you feel “fluid,” with your body and mind, where you’re totally immersed in something and are concentrated without distraction. Some call this a “flow state”, or a feeling where, under the right conditions, you become fully immersed in what you’re doing. It’s when you’re focused, and feel a sense of clarity and excitement, that you know exactly what you must do from one moment to the next.
The Formula of Peak Performance
This formula is what’s required to get into a state of peak performance: hunger and certainty. Hunger consists of your purpose, vision, and mission; it’s the motivating factors that hold a deep, and emotional, purpose within you. It’s what brings you joy and excitement, and what gets you going mentally.
When we’re talking about pre-performance nerves though, what we really need to focus on is the second part of the formula or building certainty.
Certainty consists of mental reps, physical practice, film or study work, and having a laser focus; it’s knowing that you’re able to walk into performances and crush it - it’s being sure of yourself and your skills. This is usually where people with pre-performance nerves usually struggle - they’re often unsure of what they must do, or lack certainty, going into a performance. We’re going to spend the majority of our time focused on this aspect for the remainder of this blog post so that we can address nerves head-on.
Where Peak Performances Start
Getting into a state of peak performance starts way before the performance day itself; it starts during your preparations, or a week before your performances (for the sake of a timeline). During this time you want to build both your certainty and your confidence. Certainty is defined as being sure of something, and consists of you understanding how to get the desired result, versus understanding what gets you the desired result. To build certainty, most use a form of visualization or mental imagery. Confidence, on the other hand, is knowing you have the skills required to get the desired result based on past successes or performances. Building confidence requires high amounts of physical repetition with a mental environment that matches game day. And, finally, in order to execute on your certainty and confidence, you must have a controlled laser focus, or your mind will run wild. In order to get into a state of certainty, you must be training both your certainty and confidence and guiding it with a laser focus. That way, on the day of your performance you can go into your performances with certainty, and execute it through a laser focus.
Let’s talk about the best way to build certainty, confidence, and a laser focus so you can finally get rid of your pre-game nerves.
The Three Best Tools to Build Certainty and Confidence
Here’s a quick recap: we know that nerves usually happen because we’re not truly prepared. We know that truly preparing starts a week before performances. You must build your certainty, confidence, and laser focus to dominate the task at hand. So, here are the best tools, and the ones we use at Molliteum, to help our clients get into a state of peak performance.
1. Run to the Truth so You Can Get Clear on Where your Nerves Are Coming From
The first step to removing your pre-performance nerves is understanding what causes them in the first place. So many times I find myself dealing with high performers who don’t take the time to slow down and focus on what’s going on in front of them (which is why we always say the key to high performance really is slowing down). So, the first step is to ask yourself, “what is causing my pre-performance nerves?” Is it a fear of disappointing someone? Is it not being prepared? Is it worrying about your opponent?
The beautiful thing about all of these is that you can bring them all back to certainty, confidence, and a laser focus. Let me show you.
When you’re scared of disappointing someone you must ask yourself which skill you’re unsure of. Think about it, a person who’s sure of what they must do isn’t scared to disappoint people. They know what they can do and just deliver; when they’re unsure of themselves, fear kicks in (of any sort). And if there is someone in your life that you’re worried about disappointing due to emotional reasoning, simply take the time to understand right now the only true way to impress anyone is to focus on yourself.
Once you understand what you’re unsure of that’s causing you nervousness, break it down into skills that you can train - everything can be broken down. Simply answer the questions below.
The questions: what am I currently nervous about? What 1-2 skills must I work on in order to get rid of these nerves?
2. Mental Reps for Certainty
Next, you want to practice a form of visualization, or what we call at Molliteum, mental reps. Studies show that with enough mental repetition, we can actually train our nervous system the same way we would with physical practice. The advantage here though is that we can do it with perfection. Practicing in your mind is a staple that we use with all of our high performers. The key is how you visualize though; you want to take the skills you just discovered above and visualize 10 reps of perfect practice with the skill technique alone, 10 reps of overcoming challenges, and 10 reps of getting the desired result. For example, let’s pretend you’re an athlete and figure out that you’re nervous going into games you’re scared to fail. You realize this is because you’re unsure of your goal-scoring ability. So you break it down and understand that you’re unsure of your ability to score coming off the wing. So you visualize yourself 10 times scoring with perfection, 10 times beating an opponent and scoring, and 10 times scoring in your upcoming game with expectations placed on you. By doing this you’re going to build certainty during situations you get nervous in.
Answer the questions below. Do this at least 4 times per week.
The questions: what technique must I visualize with perfect practice? What challenges must I visualize myself overcoming? What desired outcomes must I visualize myself accomplishing in my upcoming performances?
3. Physical Practice for Confidence
Now that you have your certainty down, it’s time to get confident. All you’re going to do is schedule 21 minutes per day to physically practice what you just visualized. The most important element to this though is creating what we call a mental environment or practicing with an intensity that matches game day. Spend 7 minutes on each of the skills you listed above.
4. Film Study, or Study, for Details
Now that you’re building your confidence you must see how your role models are performing so that you can model the same in performance; one of the most natural ways to learn is by watching others. It’s instinctive and something we’ve done since birth. The key though isn’t to copy your role models, it’s to model them. What does this mean? Simply put - see what they do well, take the one or two traits that you like, and implement them. It doesn’t mean you become them, it means you isolate the one to two skills and use them as a guiding pathway on how to implement them into your own game. You don’t change your game to become them. I want to be extremely clear about that. Be your own person.
Answer the questions below. Watch these two individuals at least three times per week.
The questions: what one or two role models can I watch in order to build certainty? What takeaways can I get from this?
5. Laser Focus for Concentration
Finally, now that you’ve built all the elements required to be certain and confident in yourself, the last thing you must do is concentrate. Some performers do everything right but drop the ball (literally) in the final steps. Here’s the truth about your mind: if you don’t control it, it can become your worst enemy. If you don’t have action-specific cues, that are intentional toward an outcome, that you focus it on, then you’re going to let it run wild. And if you let it run wild, it’s going to revert back to its default, which is to seek safety and shelter.
Your brain isn’t designed to push limits, it’s designed to keep you safe. So we must guide your focus.
Simply pick two cues that are action-focused, and result intended, to focus on in performance. For example, “Run hard to get to the net, and shoot to score.” Then keep going back to it every single rep. That’s what the best of the best do. Even when things don’t go 100% according to plan, they go back to their rep by rep focus.
Simply answer the questions below to find your focus.
The questions: what 1-2 actions must I focus on to get the desired result?
If You’re Still “Nervous” on Game Day, Follow this Step by Step Routine
Remind yourself of all the work you’ve completed
Remind yourself you’re ready
Get focused on the cues for performance
Do a round of box breathing
Visualize yourself getting the result 10 times in performance
Remember, we don’t want to “cope,” with nerves, but instead, we want to be so damn prepared that we’re able to overcome them. You do this by getting into a peak performance state. Certainty and hunger matter. Focus on them. If you answer the questions linked to this, you’ll be okay.
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