I’ve wanted to write this article for a little while now, but originally it was going to be titled, “How to deal with pre-race nerves.” With many races around the country, and world, on hold, it only seemed logical to put racing related content on hold as well.
After much thought and talking through some of these points recently, I realized that many of these concepts aren’t just for the start line at all.
During such uncertain times, I know many people are dealing with nerves- whether it be for racing, a workout, your job, family, difficult conversations, or anything else. While I’m no sports psychologist, these are some of the concepts that I have found most helpful in dealing with my own nerves- race related or not.
- Know Your Team
When I feel particularly nervous standing on the start line. I like to take a deep breath and list out the names of the people that I know believe in me. Sometimes I’ll just think it in my head, sometimes I’ll say it to myself out loud. When I list the names off, I am reminded that not only do I know that these people believe that I can accomplish what I’ve set out to do, but they will support and encourage me even if I don’t accomplish it on that particular day. It’s almost as if I can hand over some of my nerves and insecurities to these people in those particularly stressful moments even if they are not with me.
This doesn’t just apply to start lines. You can try this same strategy before giving a presentation, heading into a meeting, having a difficult conversation with a friend, or trying to make a sale.
- Have a System
When you know a nerve-racking event is coming up, spend some time planning your approach. For example, since I know I will be very nervous on race day, I plan out everything the day before. I lay out all of my equipment and I write out a schedule that outlines what I’ll be doing throughout the day before I get to the start line. That way, I don’t feel added stress or nerves that I won’t be able to find my glove before the race or that I might show up to the start line too late.
The same can apply to off the bike situations. Plan out when and what you’ll have for breakfast, when you’re leaving the house, and lay out your clothes the night before.
- Stress Performance Curve
The Yerkes-Dodson law or the Stress Performance curve is an inverted U. As your stress increases so does your performance, but only up to a certain point. At some point, the stress becomes too great and performance then suffers.
In other words, it’s good to be a little nervous because it means you care and your adrenaline will benefit you. If you get too nervous though, you may begin to make mistakes.
It’s important to understand where you sit on this curve and to act in accordance with your natural state. Before competition, many people like to listen to pump up music in order to increase their stress and bump themselves up higher on the performance curve. Me, on the other hand, I am naturally pretty nervous before competition and it’s more beneficial for me to execute breath work to calm down prior to a big event.
- Visualize Success
Everyone has heard this before. Visualize your success or visualize what you want to happen. It’s true. It works. I also find it helpful to visualize the stressful scenario and imagine how I want to feel. I’m training my body to feel a certain way before I’ve even experienced the situation.
In my pre-race visualizations, I often visualize the start line and I imagine myself feeling calm and ready then when I actually arrive that is where my emotions naturally go.
- State the Facts
What if? It’s easy to let a lot of hypothetical situations derail you in the moment. There are many things in life we have no control over- such as how others will receive us, how well others have prepared, and all kinds of unforeseen circumstances.
That’s why during a particularly nerve-racking moment I like to state out the things I know to be true. I might list out what I have accomplished in the past or even the exact steps that I’ve taken to prepare. This helps to re-ground me in the things I know to be true.
- Practice Gratitude
Finally, practice gratitude. Thoughts of gratitude have physical impacts on your body. These thoughts help to stimulate your brain and give you a better ability to think and reason through situations. Gratitude doesn’t have to come naturally to still be impactful. You can force yourself to think grateful thoughts. Not only will the exercise help to break down walls and help you reach for those physiological benefits but it will train you to gravitate toward gratitude in the future.
Even if things don’t turn out the way you planned, celebrate your bravery in overcoming your nerves. Sometimes showing up to the start line is the hardest part of all, and I don’t just mean in racing.