How to Overcome Nerves and Perform at Your Best

By Muffy Churches.

It’s a typical day at work. Our calendar bulges with meetings, con-calls, presentations and conversations. We’re productive, optimistic, relaxed, confident and in control. All is flowing in success mode. We’re a seasoned professional, and yet …

Why is it that on the morning of an important event, whether it’s presenting at a conference, having that ‘difficult’ conversation, or interviewing for a career-launching job, we have the potential to wake up to a nauseating, anxious sensation and a devilish inner voice with dark messages about possibilities of failure and impending doom?

The answer is that nothing is more effective at awakening our negative sleeping giant than a ‘high-stakes’ event on the calendar. Once on alert, this little monster redirects our usual confidence towards our insecurities, fears and ‘what-ifs’. If left to run around, it knocks us off kilter emotionally and physiologically and, just when we want to function at our best, it has the potential to cause less-effective thinking and a subdued performance.

The good news is, though, that this bothersome beast can be tamed.

Follow these steps to overcome this annoying syndrome and perform at your best when it counts.

Step 1: Engage your ‘avatar’

At the next opportunity, before an important event, invite your wise, inner self to hover on your shoulder to observe and listen. Try to identify the specific characteristics of your negative inner voice. Is it expressing doubtful self-worth, lack of trust in your ability, or the common fear of failure? The more distinctly you can hear it, the easier it will be to clear it.

Step 2: Envision the ideal

Take a quiet moment to picture yourself in the upcoming situation, performing at your optimum. Use your imagination to visualise it and experience it with all six senses, as if you were in a cinema watching the best version of yourself performing. If you can conceive it, you can make it real. What we ‘think about’ with vivid detail and passionate intention tends to function as a catalyst for our real-life experience, so this is a powerful and effective step to take.

Step 3: Flick the switch

This is where real magic happens. Just as you would turn a light on or off, you’re going to do the same with your inner voice. Make the choice to switch the fearful, worrisome thoughts to positive, energised and eager ones. As much in advance as possible, and as often during the day as you can manage, hold this enthusiastic dialogue in your head – literally ‘get excited’ about the upcoming event. Faking it until you make it counts. And it works. Research in neuroscience demonstrates that new neural pathways can be created through repetitive thinking on the same topic – then the old, disregarded thought patterns eventually shrivel up and fade away.

Step 4: Leverage the excitement

Harness this new storehouse of positive energy to formulate an awesome outcome. Try using the ‘Plan, Prepare and Perform’ strategy. In each of these phases you’ll have the opportunity to leverage your ‘excitement’ differently, taking the focus off yourself and using it instead to project-manage the upcoming performance:

Plan: Concentrate your verve on being practical and strategic. What needs to be done, who needs to be involved, what needs to happen?

Prepare: Place your attention on more empathic issues. Consider your message, your audience’s needs, and your key objective. How can you create a win for all? What are the driving emotions to address?

Perform: Shift into pure passion and enthusiasm for communicating what you’ve so well prepared. With this mindset, your adrenalin rush will have an empowering effect on the nervous system, supporting clear thinking and a peak performance.

Step 5: Bask in the glow of success

Enjoy the exhilaration of having overcome the debilitating potentiality of nerves. Instead, you’ve produced a great performance when it has counted. Why stop here? You’ve mastered morphing jitters and self-doubt into ‘excitement’, so imagine trying a similar approach in different parts of your life. Use the same framework in these other circumstances to transform negative, self-limiting thoughts into positive experiences.

Power on!

Muffy Churches is the author of Coach Yourself, and an internationally renowned integrative-success coach. Born in the US and settled in Sydney, she works as a corporate trainer, executive coach, speaker, author, and counsellor. She has extensive experience in inspiring and initiating positive behavioural change in clients around the world. For more information, visit or contact: [email protected].