The benefit of being nervous under pressure.
I was recently asked to take part in an event for the Bleach Festival where I would perform Tai Chi. We were to arrive at 4pm, the event would start at 5:30pm and I was 9th out of 12 performers. So I had a wait of two and a half hours. Over that time I observed other performers going through their speeches and routines, some more nervous than others. This got me thinking about nerves, pressure, and performance anxiety. I believe nerves are natural and beneficial in pressurised situations.
“After 20 years I still get nervous. The pressure makes you nervous but also brings out the best in you.” Tino Foti from Foti Fireworks commenting on the Sydney New Year’s Eve fireworks 2017.
And no matter what level of skill, in whatever arena you specialise in, nerves will come to some degree.
“Everybody gets nervous, no matter who you are.” Mark Waugh, Australian Test Cricketer, commentating in 2017.
I remember going for my green belt in 1993. It was my fourth grading. For the previous three gradings I had been quite nervous. So this time around I made the decision to not get nervous at all. I figured Sifu wasn’t there to fail me so why get anxious about the event. This proved to be a big mistake. Right up until standing in front of Sifu with his piercing gaze I had not felt one ounce of anxiety. My nerves were calm and quiet. But in the instant I began my form, all of the preliminary feelings I should have been having as I prepared for this moment, came crashing down on me. My mouth dried out and filled up with sand, my insides somersaulted, and my thoughts tried to scatter to the wind. It was awful. Thankfully I kept it together enough to be awarded my Green Level 1. That experience taught me that preparing for gradings, performances, etc also includes going through the mental preparation and the nerves. It’s only natural and can lead to far better results in the end!