We often think of the responses of our body and our emotional state as linked to our performance. “My heart is racing. I am terribly nervous because I am no good at…..”. However, this is not necessarily a valid conclusion. ‘Nervous’ is a combination of a physical state (aroused) and an emotional one (anxious) which is attached to a moral judgement of your behaviour (no good). Seems logical. But the response of our body could have been attached to a different judgement, accompanied by a different emotion and it would seem just as logical. “My heart is racing. I am all pumped up and ready to go rock this….”. You still have an aroused physical state but with a positive emotion (excitement) and the moral judgement turns the other way (all good).
One of the factors determining the likelihood of you going emotionally one way or the other is your sense of self-efficacy. People with a high sense of self-efficacy tend to see arousal as some extra push by their body, a trigger to ACT. People with a low sense of self-efficacy interpret the same arousal as an obstacle. A sign to stop and sit down until the arousal goes away or even worse, they take it as a sign that their capabilities are insufficient and that they cannot possibly do this.
The advice we get to combat nervousness and plummeting self-esteem often targets our level of arousal: sit down and take a few breaths – in through your nose, down to your belly button and out your mouth. Sound familiar? You could also, perhaps more effectively, leave your arousal where it is and try to change your emotional state by focusing on what is going to make this a positive experience for you. Connect it to some core value you have, play with it and shape it in some way you would actually enjoy experiencing it.
Most importantly focus on that which YOU believe you can do – connect it to where your self-efficacy is highest and start shaping it from there. Keep your arousal high and let it work for you. Your higher heart rate makes you more alert and gives all your senses a boost to perform at their best. It is the same experience of an athlete, crouched down and ready to race.