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Nervousness is just another word for fear: Deal with It!

Fear is normal. Let's learn how to manage and channel it better.

5 min read


Nervousness is just another word for fear: Deal with It!

Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

“Am I ever nervous? Are you kidding me? I’m nervous on the very first shot. I’m nervous throughout the entire day.”

That is Tiger Woods, winner of 81 PGA tournaments including 15 majors, talking to Golf Digest about how he feels when he is in competition. To be honest, when I first read this quote, I asked myself, “Really? Tiger gets nervous?”

But of course, he is a human being after all. Although he may look steely and composed on camera (except when he muffs a shot), Tiger confides to us that like everyone else he gets nervous when he needs to perform. So, what’s the difference between Tiger’s nerves and anyone else’s? Self-management!

“It’s how I channel it, how I harness it. How do I put that energy into deeper focus or deeper intensity?” Tiger adds. “That’s something we all can do. It’s not being afraid of it or ashamed of it. Go after it.”

Professional golf is a world away from work, of course, but Tiger’s insight into performance anxiety is applicable to anyone in management. Most often we think of nerves as affecting a presentation we must make, to the board, the boss or even to colleagues. Even when we have our message down pat, and have taken time to rehearse, we wonder how we will do.

Speaking more broadly such anxiety goes far beyond presentations. Managers feel tension and anxiousness about decisions they may face. They wonder how they will be judged, and they worry about outcome: “Did I make the right choice?”

Tiger’s answer is to “channel” your nerves and go with the “flow.” A case of the nerves is really a form of fear, and all of us need to confront it.

“Courage is not the absence of fear,” said President Franklin Delano Roosevelt, “but rather the assessment that something else is more important than fear.” 

You learn to manage it, as the late Sen. John McCain used to remind us. Failure to feel fear is symptomatic of one of two things: One, you don’t care; two, you lack self-awareness. It is said that only fools feel no fear.

Fear, or nerves, is an indication that you take the topic seriously, that you care about what you are doing and want to do your best. People who phone it in, as we say, don’t get nervous because they are not invested in the topic. Drilling more deeply into managing fears, here are things to consider.

  • Prepare. If you are making a presentation, know your material. Do your research. Same for decision-making. Underscore your assumptions with solid evidence.
  • Deliberate. For a presentation, this means rehearse. That is, go over your slides and know what you will say. For a decision, consider how the decision affects your organization and your team? Are you making the right decision for the right reasons?
  • Seek counsel. Just as you may ask for feedback on your presentation, you can ask for feedback about your decision-making process. Look for colleagues whom you trust and get their input. The decision is yours to make and getting an outside perspective can be valuable.
  • Persevere. You will make a mistake sometime, maybe in the middle of your presentation, or worse, you will make the wrong decision. Mistakes are part of life; managing those slip-ups is essential to self-growth. So, when you mess up, own the problem. Apologize, if necessary and make amends. Keep moving forward.

Over and above these practical steps, you can also learn to slow things down. Whether you are about to go on stage or about to make a big decision, take a deep breath and hold it momentarily. Take a few more deep breaths from your diaphragm this will radiate a degree of calmness. Doing so will enable you to get in touch with your physical self and, as such, you will feel more centered.

“There are going to be ups and downs” in life, says Tiger, who knows from personal experience what it is like to experience hardships — some due to his own making and others due to injuries and multiple surgeries.

“There are going to be challenges, they are going to be ebbs and flows… We determine our own fate, as tough as that might be to accept sometimes. It’s not being afraid of it. It’s OK to feel uncomfortable.”

What these lessons teach us is how to develop confidence. Rebounding from a mistake should make you realize that you can bounce back. You have experienced a defeat and you know how to respond positively.

Confidence is essential to battling nerves on the golf course or during the course of life.

All the Tiger Woods quotes appeared in the August 2019 issue of Golf Digest and are from his new video series, “My Game: Tiger Woods.”


John Baldoni is an internationally recognized leadership educator and executive coach. In 2018, Trust Across America honored him with a Lifetime Achievement Award in Trust. Also in 2018, named Baldoni a Top 100 Leadership Speaker. In 2019, Global Gurus ranked him No. 9 on its list of top 30 global experts, a list he has been on since 2007. In 2014, named Baldoni to its list of top 50 leadership experts. Baldoni is the author of 14 books, including“MOXIE: The Secret to Bold and Gutsy Leadership” and his newest, “GRACE: A Leader’s Guide to a Better Us.” Learn more about why he wrote “GRACE” in this short video.

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