After my last blog about getting back on the horse, it seems I’ve been surrounded by lessons in dealing with fear hits, managing nerves and preparing for big events. This is the season for state water ski tournaments, and we have had several people training on our lake. There has been lots of talk on the dock about how to prepare, whether the training is working and how people react to the pressure. We all have our ways, whether it is to get quiet, be more talkative or something else that works for us.
Thinking about better ways to respond to pressure everywhere reminded me of a story in my banking days. I was doing my first big presentation of my first big job. Talking has never been a big problem for me, so I wasn’t really nervous going into it. In fact, I was overly confident, thinking about how I liked to just wing it. Things would just flow beautifully right out of my mouth. So I was counting on being able to say something smart when my turn came. We were sitting at a big table, and as other people made their presentations, I was kind of smug, thinking in the back of my mind I would be great when it was my turn.
Finally, it was my turn to speak. All eyes turned to me. In that second, the adrenaline hit me-- hard. My heart started pounding. My palms got sweaty. My mouth was suddenly dry. Everything brilliant thing that I had prepared to say left my brain – just flew out of there like a bunch pigeons scared by a gunshot. Now the only thought in my mind with all those eyes on me was “Am I even wearing clothes?” I could not remember feeling this exposed ever in my life. No wonder public speaking is one of the greatest shared fears with humans. Only I would call what I was feeling pure terror. And I was unprepared for it.
I started talking – and I have no idea what I said in those first few sentences. I’m pretty sure it was jibberish. At some point, I said something that snapped me out of it. Their eyes changed, my nervous system calmed down and I got connected to my material and to them. By the end, it was an accidentally good presentation. But what did I DO that made that shift? How did I get through that without making a complete ass out of myself? What could I have done in preparation to be ready for the nerves? And what could I have done to reengage my brain after I got that adrenaline hit? Because no amount of preparation keeps that adrenaline from hitting when we are doing something big, something that really matters.
Making intentionally good presentations – as opposed to accidental hits or misses – became more and more important as I took on added responsibility in my role. It wasn’t until much later when I started becoming an athlete and working on building a capable mind that I began to learn what makes the difference between getting lucky and being intentionally grounded and confident.
On a whitewater rafting trip with my family, we all got to experience some good adrenaline taking a trip that involved being in our own kayaks and a couple of Class IV rapids. This was definitely not for chickens – usually I couldn’t tell if my heart was pounding from the workout or the steep drops through the rapids. The river is full of rocks, and getting stuck on one or hit by another was a very real possibility. We watched several in our crew end up in awkward situations.
About halfway down the river, my nephew made an observation that I’ve never forgotten: “Hey Aunt Lynn, if you look at where you want to go instead of all the rocks, your kayak just goes right by them!”
Good point! It’s not like it was the first time I’ve ever heard that principle. I use it in snow skiing in tree filled slopes, I use it in tennis and I even highlighted it in my TEDx talk. Focus on what you want and you get more of that. Flow is restored.
What do you do when you get hit by that sudden request to have a mystery meeting with the boss? How do you handle the nerves when getting in front of a lot of people? How do you remain centered and calm when the pressure gets high? What is your self talk when you are in fear or think you are messing up?
We can be more prepared if we are willing to become more aware. It is possible to deal with those fear hits with deliberate practice.
I would love to hear from you! And stay tuned for news of a workshop that is all about flow.
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