David Morin

How confident people deal with nervousness

A few weeks ago, I and Viktor sent out questions to over 10 000 of you. We asked you about how you view confidence and what specifically you wanted to be better at. It was fascinating to read.

Here are some stats from the survey:

Male to female ratio

Becoming more confident turned out to be universal for both men and women. Here, women were somewhat overrepresented.

Age

We were surprised by how people from all ages are interested in improving their confidence. The youngest being 16 and the oldest being 60, with the majority being 18-28.

Average level of anxiety

When we asked how anxious you felt on a scale from 0 to 10, the majority marked themselves as average to above average.

One of the strongest patterns we found in the survey was how many see nervosity and fear as something negative – as if our bodies are telling us to stop doing whatever we’re doing and return to the comfort zone again.

This is obviously a natural way to see it. But as it turns out, people who identify with being confident often have a radically different view on nervosity and fear.

It’s not like if confident people don’t get nervous or afraid. It’s just that in their minds, nervosity and fear is a normal response to a social interaction.

  • When others see a racing heart and sweating as the omen of something terrible that they need to avoid, confident people can see it as a sign of excitement.
  • When others do anything to avoid feeling fear, confident people can see it as a sign of self-growth: That it’s simply how it feels whenever you’re about to do something you’re not used to.
  • When others feel that nervousness is the body telling you to stop, confident people see it as a natural process and let it run on its own, together with all the other processes in the body.

Most of us know that soreness from working out is a sign of us getting stronger. Therefore, most people like that feeling (as long as it’s within reasonable limits). We know it’s the sign of something good. That’s the same mechanism that happens in the brain of confident people.

Recently, I was scheduled for a Skype interview with a popular co-living house in NYC where I really want to live. I was nervous before the interview because I knew that I would get sad if I didn’t get admitted.

Instead of trying to push away my nervousness, I acknowledged it. I thought to myself: I feel nervous. It’s like a pressure point in the upper area of my chest. It’s natural to feel nervous about this because getting admitted would mean a lot to me, and that’s perfectly fine.

I acknowledged the feeling, and I didn’t let it control me. The interview went great, last Friday I got informed that I had been admitted. This method was obviously not the reason that I got admitted, but I know it was part of the reason I could make a good interview.

A MASSIVE amount of studies have shown that when we accept a feeling instead of trying to ignore it or pushing it away, the feeling gets weaker and more tolerable (ref). Feelings are much like toddlers – it’s not until you give them attention that they stop screaming.

This is a counter-intuitive and profound realization that can be applied to all feelings: Don’t try to fight them: embrace them.

Whenever you’re feeling nervous in a social setting, you can remember the following:

  • Nervousness is a bodily response that’s not necessarily bad. Let your body run its course. Don’t hinder your feelings, and don’t let your feelings hinder you.
  • Bodily reactions that you usually see as something negative can be seen as excitement and a natural response that’s not bad or something you have to avoid.
  • Fear is a good indicator that you’re doing something outside of your comfort zone, and that’s how we grow as humans.

I’m excited to hear your thoughts in the comments!

Comments (9)

  1. Andrea

    Yes but what does it mean, actually, to embrace anxiety? Is there something practical that we can do? I mean, if I feel a lot of anxiety just thinking “let me embrace this feeling” does no good for me..

    • Viktor Sander

      Good question Andrea, it can definitely be explained more thoroughly.

      It’s based on the same principles as mindfulness and acceptance and commitment therapy (ACT).

      Embracing the feeling means that you are letting yourself feel whatever you feel. In the short term it’s really hard and won’t feel any better, it might even feel worse if you have a lot of anxiety. But long-term, by consistently accepting/embracing the feeling, this helps you to stop being afraid of the feeling. Because when we fear our feelings and try to stop/suppress them, we panic and get even more anxiety. So this counter-intuitive behavior helps you break the cycle that creates anxiety.

      You can never really fight or stop your feelings, especially not anxiety. That’s why we instead strive to do the opposite and embrace it.

      As you describe, embracing it fully can be too much. In that case, try to just let yourself feel as much as you can handle. That way you build up your tolerance until you eventually can handle more anxiety in the moment. Over time, you will also start feeling more capable and you will stop fearing or panicking over your anxiety, effectively breaking the negative spiral.

  2. I agree with your ideas in overcoming the feeling of nervous. That is great. And now I understand what should I do if it happens to me. Thank you.

  3. Timothy

    This is very helpful advice. I’ve just been offed a new job and I’m more than nervous. I’m scared. I know I must move through this, and get some help, if I want to use my skills and education, and have a good life. Thank you!

    • David Morin

      Glad to hear that! Good luck at your new job Timothy! 🙂

  4. Mateen

    I think this is good advice. It’s worked for me too. Thank you for this article.

    • David Morin

      Thanks!

  5. Anonymous

    This has helped me so much! I am always fighting my nervousness. I just hate the fact that I can’t get rid of those feelings. I started singing in front of an audience about three years ago and I still get nervous and continue to try and get rid of the feelings and it does absolutely nothing but make it worse! The idea of accepting the feelings and not looking at them as a negative thing just helps me to sigh a breath of relief.
    Thank you!
    Kathy

    • David Morin

      Great that you started singing in front of an audience, that takes courage. Good luck! 🙂

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