The Importance of Butterflies
The Importance of Butterflies
By Justin Wright
Whether you are standing on the starting line of a competition, in a boardroom prepared to give a major presentation, on the phone closing a deal, or even asking someone out on a first date, the feeling is typically the same. An increased heart rate, a cold sweat on your body, an uneasiness in the pit of your stomach all indicate this changed state. Many associate these feelings with nerves, with being anxious or worried about the events that are about to unfold.
I want you to reframe these feelings, to turn the negative thoughts of anxiety into positive ones. Understand that whether we are nervous or excited, the physiological signs are the same. Your body will react the same way regardless, but your actual performance is highly dependent on your mindset leading up to the event. Learning to control this nervousness, and channel it into positive excitement, will often be the difference between success and failure. As a great mentor, Justin Su’a, once said, “It doesn’t matter how you feel, it matters what you do.” Learn to control your mind, and those butterflies you feel may actually empower you to achieve your potential.
Fake it till you make it
The concept of “fake it till you make it” is nothing new. In fact, many life and business coaches teach this exact concept to countless people every year. As human beings, it is natural for us to doubt our own abilities. It always seems like everyone else was given a manual on how to live a successful life except us. All those top athletes, entrepreneurs, investors, actors, etc. must know a secret we don’t, right? In theory, if we pretend that we are on the same level, i.e. if we “fake” it, then eventually we can succeed in the same way.
This concept of feeling like we are not prepared, like we don’t know what we are doing, is called “imposter syndrome.” In short, it makes us feel like we lack the necessary qualifications to achieve success in whatever avenue we are pursuing. It is the constant feeling that we are lacking the right information, that others know what we don’t and eventually our ruse will be discovered. The truth is, everyone else who has achieved success has experienced these exact same feelings and emotions at one point or another.
It is important to remain confident, to understand that no one has all the answers, and sometimes the best thing we can do is rely on our current knowledge and our intuition to solve the problems at hand. When attempting to be truly great at something, we will always encounter unique problems that have not been solved before. The key is to trust ourselves and make a decision; whether we succeed or fail we are gaining valuable knowledge for future decisions. This is the exact process that every other successful person has gone through. They didn’t have the answers either, but success is almost always experienced by those willing to put their best foot forward and try. They are nervous as well, they sometimes have doubts as well, but remember: it doesn’t matter how you feel, it matters what you do.
What are “nerves” exactly?
So let’s dig a little deeper into these moments of decision-making, into these times when we must trust ourselves to drive forward. Any time the stakes are high, it is only natural that we feel this weight and this pressure. These feelings are accompanied by what many refer to as “nerves”: the same physiological signs of stress we already described. The increased heart rate, cold sweat, and knots in the stomach are our body’s way of telling us that it’s time to take action. This is our sympathetic nervous system, correlated with our fight or flight response, doing its job. Along with the sweat and the elevated heart rate comes a heightened alertness and ability to take action when this system is properly harnessed.
On the other end of the spectrum is the parasympathetic nervous system, or our restful state. Since we cannot be in a state of heart-pumping, adrenaline-producing, high-octane action all the time, the parasympathetic response allows us to wind down and recover from the higher-stress activities that the sympathetic response handles. Gaining a deeper understanding of the two systems is critical for remaining confident during these times of stress.
Our nervous system is always responding in one of these two ways. There aren’t two different sympathetic states, but there are different ways to respond to this state. The best athletes and businesspeople in the world aren’t part of an exclusive, success-only sympathetic nervous system club. They have simply learned to harness these feelings and physiological changes in a positive way. The symptoms are the same, but the execution is very different. How exactly do we tap into this higher-level execution when we feel the signs and symptoms of our sympathetic nervous system kicking into gear?
Mindset controls everything
Performing well under pressure is oftentimes just a matter of changing the way we think about these symptoms. If we perceive them to be a bad thing, to be signs of nervousness, uneasiness, and doubt then our performance will likely suffer accordingly. If we instead understand that both good and bad performances are preceded by the same physiological symptoms, then we are much more likely to do what needs to be done. The same feelings are felt by elite performers and catastrophic failures; learn to accept these feelings as part of the process and understand that they do not control the outcome.
Feeling those butterflies, feeling the elevated heart rate, feeling that cold sweat on your body can actually be nothing more than a reminder that you are ready to take massive action. These signs and symptoms can remind you that you are, in fact, excited to tackle the challenge in front of you. Nerves can be positive instead of negative when we realize that our sympathetic nervous system is turning on because we care about the outcome of what we are doing. Caring about something and being excited to perform are positive traits. Some of the best athletes in the world still get so worked up before a big game that they vomit in the locker room. Why? Because they care enough about performing well that it excites them, and their bodies respond accordingly.
Nerves are like a traffic light
The nerves that you feel before high-pressure situations are simply like the red light on a traffic signal that is about to turn green. It is an indicator that it is almost time to shift into gear and start moving forward. While it can be crippling if we are afraid of these feelings, our sympathetic nervous system is actually what makes us capable of performing well in these exact situations. Understand that nerves can be positive just as easily as they can be negative, it simply depends on our perception of these feelings. Doubts are normal, and feeling nervous before a big event is more common than you think. Just remember to take a deep breath, focus on the excitement instead of fear, and simply do regardless of how you feel.