Turning Fear to Anger
If we accept that an athlete’s pre-competition nervousness is a primitive mind-body reaction to challenge, then perhaps we should first look at its biological basis.
As discussed in earlier chapters, nervousness is the mind-body’s way of readying us for possible physical harm. This primitive system has remained virtually the same for millions of years and should stay intact for another 100,000 or so, experts say. Its original skills intended for light or flight were fighting and running. Hence, the term fight or flight. Those were the original animal responses. But, as human beings we have evolved as part animal, part thinker. We’ve complicated our arousal system in the way we react to life. Little do we need to respond to physical threats any more.
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Instead, we respond when our selfesteem or ego are threatened. The arousal system still responds to threats, but now they’re more sophisticated and they involve thinking. But the animal fight or flight response didn’t involve much thinking. Y ou were threatened with physical harm, your arousal engine kicked in, and you fought like a lion or you ran like a deer. Now when our arousal nerves kick in, we often think too much, worry too much. In modern times is it possible we choke more than our ancient ancestors did in the moment of truth because there are more distractions, because we think too much?
Another potential problem is the skills the arousal system are used for have changed dramatically. Sure, in running events and fighting events those skills are still heavily used, but not so much in other sports, which may require subtle motor skills such as golf, figure skating, baseball hitting, and archery. And yet, the most successful athletes in all types of sports seem to not only cope with their arousal systems, but to use them as powerful additives to performance their trump card. Maybe the most successful athletes have learned to make their arousal response natural to their particular skill through trial and error, and much practice, both in training and in game situations.
Professionals in other fields have learned to turn their arousal response into good performance in a skill, such as police officers using guns to protect themselves and to protect society. Massad Ayoob, a police captain in New Hampshire, is a fear expert. Ayoob, who has written numerous blogs on self-defense, teaches police officers to survive life-threatening situations by changing their outlook within a split second. When a gun-toting officer is threatened by a suspect, the fear that an officer feels can cause him to seize up, or at least defend himself in a less effective manner than normal. Or it can sharpen his reflexes and skills. Just as there is good cholesterol and bad cholesterol, so too is there good fear that galvanizes an appropriate response and bad fear that paralyzes its victim, he said. Fear can be a positive stimulus, creating what Bradley Steiner brilliantly called ‘fear energy’ letting the fear turn briefly to anger helps that critical transmogrification. But, because under the law a man in the grip of anger loses the critical defense of reasonableness, the anger must then be immediately channeled into a focus on dispassionately performing the indicated response. There’s got to be a flow. In other words, Ayoob advises people caught in threatening situations to immediately recognize their nervousness as fear, then quickly get angry, then just as quickly turn that anger into the act or the skill required to get out of the situation. For a police officer, that would mean putting all the energy and focus into operating his gun. Added Ayoob: The focus is not on. ‘I’ll kill you for trying to kill me!’ The focus is on the job at hand: now is the time for Front Sight, Press [a gun term].