Whether you call them nerves, jitters, butterflies, or cold feet, no one likes feeling nervous.
You’ve probably also heard that having a little bit of this kind of anxiety can be a good thing for performances. And while it probably doesn’t feel like it at the time, learning how to channel this anxious energy into your medium (whether art, music, dance, or something else) can make your performance better than it otherwise would be.
Now, though, it looks science is backing up the claim that not only can a little bit of that “butterflies-in-the-stomach” feeling help your performance, even a lot of it may be better than none of it!
The study looks at the performance of 37 professional male soccer players. It was initially designed to find the difference in performance in those players that felt like they were in a challenge state (a state conducive to good performance under pressure) versus those players that were in a threat state (which should have worse performance under pressure).
During the study, a number of players didn’t appear to be in either a “challenge” or “threat” state. Instead, their physical reaction was much lower, and they were classified as in a “blunted” state.
Although the presence of this state was not anticipated by the researchers, the really interesting result was in the performance of these players compared to the “challenge” and “threat” players.
I won’t spoil the specific numbers, but Noa’s article is well worth a read.
He also includes some practical advice on how to find the elusive “challenge” state without venturing into the “threatened” category. Practicing this self-talk is just as important as practicing your music, so don’t save it until the day of a big performance!