I often hear athletes expressing the nervousness they experience either prior or during a match as something they own or are. They often say, “I am so nervous.” But, do they own such a feeling or are they just sensing in their bodies such a discomfort?
There is a major difference between “I am” vs. “I feel” an emotion. Whenever we express an emotion as something we own, for example “I am”, it will more likely represent us, meaning that the expression “I am a nervous person” is being expressed as if we are such a feeling. But, we are not feelings; we sense feelings, but we do not own them.
The more we keep expressing our feelings as something that “we are”, those feelings will eventually become our identity. A lot has to do with how our brains work. We first sense a feeling, primarily in our bodies. Those feelings may be uncomfortable, just like in the case of nervousness. Because managing those feeling may be difficult, the brain “translates” those feelings into “words” that can be verbally expressed so other people can understand what is happening to us. Hence, rather than saying, “my legs are tingling as I am getting ready to step on the soccer field,” it is much easier to be understood by saying, “I am nervous.”
We will quickly identify ourselves as being such an emotion. As a consequence, the emotion will permeate into the belief that this is who we are and, as a consequence, how you behave. The more we repeat to ourselves that “I am nervous” the more difficult it will be to find a way to manage your emotions. The emotion will follow us anywhere we go and we will expect it to be there anytime.
It is different when we say to ourselves, “I feel nervous.” After all, a feeling is something that we sense, not something we are. It is perfectly fine to have feelings. Nervousness is a very common feeling all athletes experience prior to an important competition. Hence, normalizing how we feel and expressing such a feeling as, “I feel nervous” will help create an emotional distance between how we feel versus how we think we are. Once we identify our feelings, then express them as such and we will become more able to manage them.
When you find yourself having strong feeling, you should”
- Identify them as feeling you are sensing or having rather than owning them.
- Once you normalize you are having a feeling, practice a breathing or mental strategy that will help you manage those feelings. Most likely, once we express them, they will subside.