Imagine arriving at your moment of truth with less nerves and more confidence.
That might seem a little unrealistic. After all, being a bundle of nerves is how you know that your moment of truth has arrived.
Whether it’s a big presentation, a job interview, delivering a report, or speaking up in a meeting, it feels like a big moment because you feel nervous.
The problem is, those nerves can easily turn into a lack of confidence. Soon, you can be roiling in despair about the whole thing.
Which is counter-productive and disheartening.
So we can spend a time worrying. And worrying about worrying.
It’s like waking up in the middle of the night before some important day. You know you need a good night’s rest, so when you wake up you worry that you’re not resting. And that worrying prevents you from getting back to sleep.
The same downward spiral can fuel your nervousness and erode your confidence about whatever your next big thing is at work.
Let’s change that.
It’s easier than you might think.
I’ll show you how this works by sharing top tips and techniques to calm your nerves and boost your confidence.
Close the information gaps
First of all, make sure that you cover the basics. Amazingly, a small amount of effort on research can go a really long way.
Too often we cringe at the thought of “researching” whatever we’re dealing with.
You know you should research the company before a job interview.
You know you should research the market as you shape your pitch.
You know you should research the latest technology, competitive landscape, public opinion, or whatever.
Sometimes we can feel so overwhelmed that we freeze up instead of getting to work. It just seems so daunting.
I think it’s because the word research can carry a lot of weight in our minds. We think of white coat scientists and spectacled academics when we think of research.
So let’s just think of it as googling instead.
Everybody googles. It’s easy and productive.
What’s magical about googling is that it naturally surfaces the best and most relevant information, though sometimes we need to be a little clever or creative about our search terms.
We’ve all been through that process and understand how fast and effective it can be.
Think about googling as preparation for your next challenge. Certainly this would mean firing up a web browser and using the Google search engine.
But it can also inform your approach to following up on that information and in your efforts to scan other resources. Trust that what floats to the top pretty readily will be some of the most valuable stuff.
You can quickly get a lay of the land with a little effort. That’s the wonder of googling. And, yeah, it’s actually legitimate research for most of us most of the time.
Don’t let the idea of research bog you down. Go out and do a good scan to make sure you have a handle on the broad swipes of whatever topic area you are working in.
That will help assuage fears and give you confidence from knowing that you at least took a good look around to make sure you haven’t missed anything obvious.
Validate your thinking
Of course, for any big moment of work, you want to go a bit deeper. This is where your relationships are invaluable.
Test your googling level research, your general approach, and your broad thinking on the matter by talking to others.
There are a few ways to do this that will help.
One is talking to people far removed from the situation. If you run your thinking and results so far past someone totally outside of your industry (a friend, spouse, etc), it forces you to explain everything at a high level.
This helps you to step back and make sure you are seeing the big picture. Stepping back in that way helps you to see if there are any major gaps or flaws. If there are, you can now do something about them.
Once that all seems in order, you can know that you’ve avoided any major errors in scope and scale and approach.
You can then test that a little further by talking things through with someone in the same industry or discipline from outside of your organization. This can help you to test the logic of your thinking and the information itself in ways that full outsiders can’t.
Again, see and address any gaps. Then move on.
You might next talk things through with various people in your organization. A trusted colleague, a peer, your boss, or someone else on the project team can really help you understand and address gaps particular to the specifics of your situation, the politics and culture of the organization, the personalities involved, and the current situational landscape.
As you work through in this way from top to bottom, you will find and address things you would not have caught on your own. That will help you to be less nervous about something you might have missed or misunderstood. All those run throughs and adjustments will help you gain a lot of confidence in your approach, because it’s all validated by a full cross-section of exactly the people who can help with this the most.
Leave time to think and adjust
As you can see, iteration is a huge strategic advantage in approaching your work, whatever it might be.
Because each time you do a little research and gather some feedback and validation, it gives you time to reflect, reconsider, and adjust.
Each time you iterate, you know that you are making the whole thing better. A natural byproduct of that improvement is less nervousness and more confidence. Because, essentially, you’re practicing. And one of the most powerful things that practice makes is not perfection, but comfort.
Knowing this, you should start early. Rough drafts, sketchy outlines, and brief hallway conversations are the building blocks of great work.
By recognizing this and allowing time and space for iteration, you give yourself room to do this more comfortably.
Too often we feel like we should go from zero to sixty down the highway, because that’s what success looks like on TV. But, in reality, we should be driving slowly around the block many many times. We should be walking the race course. We should be tuning up the engine.
Allow yourself time for a little warm up, and your game will be much better. You will feel less nervous and more confident. Because you gave yourself time and space to get ready.
Physiology matters too
You need a good night’s sleep. Remember that little analogy at the beginning of this post?
One of the reasons we have those restless nights is because we are nervous and lack confidence. The first few steps will go a long way toward alleviating those issues.
But sleep itself is important. Top athletes are as good at resting as they are at working out hard.
Sleep is needed for restoration and mental sharpness. And, oh yeah, just being comfortable and not feeling shitty and behind the 8-ball straight out of the gate.
Eating healthy helps too. Not only because eating healthy is actually good for you but also because eating healthy is a clear signal to yourself that you think you matter and you are doing something important to help yourself. You *feel good* about eating healthy.
Exercise, stretching, and all of that other good stuff we all know but too rarely do matters too.
Like all things, fundamentals matter. A little attention to these can go a long way for you.
You don’t need to do anything drastic or strenuous. Just a little attention, even periodically, will make you feel better physically and emotionally. Which will be a huge help to calming (or dealing with) nerves and feeling stronger and more confident in general.
Take a positive stance
Being positive helps you to, well, feel positive.
There is a lot of science to support the idea of acting yourself into reality. Adopting a “hero pose” is shown to actually change levels of testosterone and cortisol in your system. Acting like a superhero really does make you feel like one. And we know that superheros are less nervous and more confident than the rest of us!
So taking a pose can be a great strategy, particularly as the big moment arrives.
There is another idea we can take from science to help us in this area. It’s called priming.
Priming is a technique whereby exposure to one stimulus influences a response to a subsequent stimulus, without conscious guidance or intention. For example, the word NURSE is recognized more quickly following the word DOCTOR than following the word BREAD.
What does this mean? It means that you might want to start your day by watching a funny YouTube video, reading your favorite author, or doing something that you feel confident in.
This can help you set the stage for future activities in a positive light. And this little secret hack of your own subconscious can be surprisingly effective.
Looking back from the future
One last thing you can do to help releive your nerves is to look back on whatever challenge you are facing right now from an imagined future.
What will the whole thing look like next month, next year, in five years?
Probably not as big of a deal as it feels right now. How could you know this? Because you can look back over similar events of the past and see them in a new light now. Not that big of a deal as it seemed at the time.
That can really help to calm your nerves and to be confident that you will be ok no matter what happens next. Whatever big deal this thing is, it’s only part of your story.
Nervousness is stressful. Lack of confidence can hurt our performance.
Both are, however, part of the deal when taking on worthwhile challenges at work that will help us to grow and succeed as professionals.
So a good strategy for your career development and success is to figure out techniques you can use to reduce your nerves and increase your confidence during these “moments of truth,” be they big or small.
You can gather information to help ensure you’ve covered all the bases. This doesn’t need to be deep, white-coat research. It can be as easy as “googling” your way though.
You can validate your thinking through a series of check-ins with various friends and colleagues. This helps you gain perspective, close gaps, practice thinking things through, and gain confidence that you have tested and adjusted your work appropriately.
You can give yourself time and space to iterate. Most of the other techniques don’t work so well under “cramming” circumstances. And cramming always creates stress and leaves room to miss stuff. Chipping away is almost always a better approach, and certainly less stressful.
You can take care of yourself with some good sleeping and eating. You don’t need to be in magazine cover shape, you just need to be attentive. It really helps you feel better and be more effective. And it’s a powerful signal to yourself.
And don’t forget some of the simple tricks from science. Taking a positive stance in your posture can be refreshing and energizing in the moment. So too can “priming” yourself with ideas and activities that you feel good about. Stress can be hacked. Self-confidence can be boosted.
Taken together, these techniques will help you be more successful in your big moments at work. You can feel less stress and you can feel real confidence. Both of those things will always help you to perform better in the moment of truth.