Years ago, I read an unusual insight on nerves that's made just about everything in life less scary

You know that feeling of being nervous?

It’s a physical thing. Maybe you feel a pit in your stomach, or your hands get clammy, or you start hearing your heart beating in your ears.

I feel you. I used to get nervous about all kinds of everyday things: Raising my hand as a kid in class, speaking in front of a group in college, telling my boss bad news. But now, I don’t get nervous. I get excited.

Let me explain.

A few years back, I was reading psychologist Jonathan Alpert’s book “Be Fearless” for a story I was working on. In it, Alpert gives his future coauthor, who is nervous about being on TV, the following advice:

“When you feel yourself getting nervous, instead of telling yourself that you are nervous, tell yourself that you are excited. They are the same sensations. But when you interpret it as excitement, it’s easier to deal with than if you interpret it as nerves.”

She tries it, and later tells Alpert how she’s surprised something so simple can be so effective. He explains:

“It worked because fear and excitement are physiologically similar. The difference between the two is not in how your body feels but rather how your mind interprets it. When you tell yourself you are suffering from nerves, you reinforce the fear and end up having a negative experience. When you tell yourself that you are excited, you weaken the fear and turn what could have been a negative into a positive.”

It might sound a little woo-woo, but think about it: What does your body do when you’re excited? You probably fidget. You can’t think about anything else. You check the clock constantly, counting down the minutes until you get to do what you’re excited about. Maybe you feel it in your stomach, or your hands, or your ears … but you’re happy about it. You aren’t nervous — you’re excited.

Alpert writes:

“Eventually I realised that fearless people do this somewhat naturally. They feel what most of us call nerves, but they interpret these sensations as excitement. For instance, I know someone who loves to skydive, rock climb, and ride his bike down the sides of steep mountains. He seems fearless. When I asked him, ‘Why do you do these things? Aren’t you scared?’ he replied, ‘It’s thrilling. I love the rush.’

“What he was calling a rush is what other people call nerves.”

I never forgot this advice, and I can tell you from experience that it works, to a degree. I’ve used a similar tactic in other areas as well: I convinced myself that green tea is my favourite drink, even though it tastes like grass. (Delicious grass!) I fooled myself into thinking going to the gym is my favourite hobby. Why shouldn’t I trick myself into being excited instead of nervous?

The next time you feel that pit in your stomach or hear that roaring in your ears, tell yourself you’re excited for whatever challenge is next. What have you got to lose?

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