Emotional alchemy: How to turn nervousness into excitement

by Steli Efti

If you’re doing sales—whether you’re pitching a potential investor, demoing your product or just cold calling prospects—you’ll feel nervous at times. Everybody does.

What matters is how you deal with this anxiety. Do you let it throw you off your game, or do you use it to fuel your success.

Today I want to share the story of how I learned emotional alchemy as a kid. It’s probably the only useful thing I ever learned in school, but it has served me well until now.

I had this one teacher with whom I shared a common trait: mutual hostility. He didn't like me, and I didn't like him.

One day, he made us memorize a poem, and then later recite it in front of the whole class. When telling us about the assignment, he also mentioned this:

If you feel nervous when you stand in front of the class, just take that nervousness and use that energy to speak louder, speak more excited, more passionate. Just utilize that emotion to perform that poem even better.

This was the first time that teacher had ever said something that really set my mental wheels in motion.

I still remember sitting there, thinking to myself, "Wait … you can take an emotion like fear or nervousness … and use it productively?"

It was magical to me—and I couldn’t get that idea out of my mind.

When the day of the recital came, and I stood in front of the class, I felt incipient anxiety building up. I thought of using that feeling, and decided, "Well, fuck, let’s give this a try."

And I spoke louder, with more passion than I ever had in front of the class. I took that nervous energy and released it. And I killed it. Telling a poem in front of the class. Me, the student who “wasn’t good enough”. It was the one and only time that teacher gave me a good grade.

This experience stuck with me for the rest of my life. The ability to take an emotion, even a strong negative emotion, and turn it into gold.

How often do you think I've used this mind hack during high-stakes negotiations, when pitching an investor or a large client? I can't even count it. It has become second nature to me, and I do it instinctively now, my brain has hardwired that response to nervousness.

Start using the power of your mind to practice this kind of emotional alchemy. Use it often, and it will become easier and easier for you too.

The difference between fear and excitement is just context. How do you interpret the sensations you experience? How do you use them to tackle the challenge you’re up against?

It's not how you feel about it, but how you respond to that feeling, and how you manage your own psychology.