Like a lot of people, I watched some of the Commonwealth Games recently. (And why not? Not only is it fun, but we’ve trained quite a few of the people involved, in one way or another!). My friend Alan Stevens recently posted on the Professional Speaking Association’s Facebook group a comment from one of the shooters, saying that they didn’t feel under pressure from the other competitors – they had to do what they had to do, and ignore everyone else.

Of course, that’s an easier tactic to take in shooting than in some other sports, such as racing, where you’re interacting a lot more with everyone else, but it is a useful analogy in some ways, and it got me thinking about other sporting metaphors that are useful in the real world… (whatever the real world is!).

The one that leapt to my mind was the idea of being both confident and nervous at the same time. (It’s something we’ve written about in the presentation skills blog but it has wider implications too.)

My experience is that people assume that confident people aren’t nervous. It follows that if they are nervous they mustn’t be confident. From that, in turn, follows a lot of in-head negativity. The thing is, I beg to differ.

Sure, confidence and nervousness aren’t independent but they aren’t a one-to-one match, either. Stay with me for a minute and I’ll explore what I mean.

Being confident and not nervous

For me, this is the land of arrogance and over-confidence. It’s the land of people who don’t care what other people think and who are so very sure of their skills that they’ve got no need to be nervous. To me, that smacks of either arrogance or that they’re doing something which they’re not engaged with – there’s nothing riding on the outcome. Things like ‘doing the washing up’ aside, that’s a pretty sad place to be in, isn’t it? It means you’re not pushing, you’re not trying and you’re not growing.

Being unconfident and nervous

The fear zone. This is the land of mistakes and anxiety, of paranoia.  And to me it sounds like an indicator that you’ve reached too far, gambled too high a stake and are too far out of your comfort zone.

Something’s gone wrong if you’re here.  Perhaps you’re doing something just because you were told to, counter to your skill-set. Or perhaps you’re like this just because you’ve not prepared enough, not had enough training, not done enough practice.

The long and the short of it is that if you’re in this place, you shouldn’t be and you’ve got to ask yourself two questions.

  • What can I do to get out of it; and
  • What can I do to make sure it doesn’t happen again?

Pretty obviously two of the answers are going to be practise and training!

Being not confident and not nervous

Truth to tell, I can only imagine being in this place if I was either very drunk (very, very drunk!) or doing something I didn’t care about. At this point the key question is why I’m bothering to do this at all – it’s time to move on.

Being confident and nervous

For me, this is the performance zone.   This is where I’m nervous in case things go wrong, but confident in my ability to handle them if (when!) then do. This is where being confident allows me to take risks, and so achieve great things, but also where being nervous keeps me on my toes. If I’m nervous, it means it matters: and if I’m confident it means I’m prepared.

Perfect, eh?

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