Bruce Springsteen signed for Columbia Records in 1972. Since then, he has played about 2,600 live concerts1.
But despite his vast experience, he can still feel his nerves kick into high gear before every show2:
Just before I go on stage, my heart beats a little faster . . . my hands sweat a little . . . my legs go numb as if I’m getting pins and needles . . . and then I get a tight feeling in the pit of my stomach that starts to spin round and round . . .
It doesn’t sound very pleasant, does it? Still, Springsteen doesn’t try to calm down. Instead, he welcomes these bodily sensations:
When I get all those feelings, I know I’m excited, pumped up, and ready to go onstage.
Springsteen perceives his intense pre-show emotions as a good sign, and that turns them into a powerful energy source.
Calming Down vs. Getting Excited
Most people assume that the best way to deal with nervousness is to try to calm down.
But research shows that Springsteen’s approach is way more effective.
A study by researcher Alison Wood Brooks3 illustrates this point particularly well.
She brought her study participants into her lab and gave them an assignment that most people find incredibly stressful.
They were all going to have to give impromptu speeches to a group of strangers.
But before they did, the participants were split into two groups:
- Group 1 got to tell themselves, “I am calm.”
- Group 2 got to tell themselves, “I am excited.”
When the groups went on to give their speeches, the “excited” group significantly outperformed the “calm” group.
And when you think about it, that makes perfect sense.
It’s virtually impossible to immediately switch from a stressed state to a calm state.
If anything, trying to calm down will only make you increasingly stressed about how stressed you are.
So, it’s much more effective to reframe these bodily sensations as excitement.
That way, you can welcome intense emotions and use them to your advantage.
You can’t avoid getting nervous. But you can choose how you perceive your nervousness.
And the way that you perceive it largely determines if you feel anxious or enthusiastic.
So, the next time you feel nervous, don’t try to get rid of the feeling. Instead, see it as a sign that you’re ready for the task at hand.
Tell yourself, “I’m excited!” and use the energy in your body as fuel to perform at your very best.