Top tips to overcome nerves from extreme athlete Steve Gurney

  • 08/08/2019

Extreme athlete Steve Gurney knows what it means to feel nervous.

The multisport and triathlon athlete has won the gruelling Coast to Coast a record nine times. 

His victories haven't come easily though, for years Gurney had to battle to contain his nerves and he attributes much of his success in learning to overcome that anxious feeling.

Now a motivational speaking, Gurney is sharing his tips for overcoming nerves so others can tap into his wealth of experience. 

He says he realised he got nervous "right from the very get-go, at the start of my career" and eventually decided he would try and do something about the nerves.

"The first few years I just had to deal with it but then I started doing a bit of study into mental excellence," he told The AM Show on Thursday.

Although an athlete, he realised he also needed to train his mind if he wanted to succeed.

"Your mind leads your physiology," he says.

Although nerves are useful, we can't let them control us.

Nerves are "our primordial part of our brain saying, 'fight or flight, look out there's something coming'. But we've got a frontal lobe now and so we can use that in a positive way."

The secret, he says, is not to try and eliminate nerves completely, but to keep them in check.

"Research is very clear on that: nerves are going to make you perform better in most situations."

One technique that can help calm you quickly is to belly-breathe.

"Put your hand on your stomach and notice your belly going out. Breathe right out then breathe all the way in. Straight away you notice you feel a bit less anxious."

Also handy, is what Gurney calls "anchoring"

"I'll think of times in the past and go back to that time and anchor that feeling of confidence that I want," he says.

"So I go back to a time in the past where I had the exact opposite of nerves, which is extreme confidence and anchor." 

He says he then anchors that feeling by creating a physical action - it might be holding your fingers in a certain way or putting the tip of your tongue to the top of your mouth. The idea is that by doing this action you train yourself to feel that past feeling of confidence.

"For example, wearing your favourite clothes makes you feel good and so wear your favourite clothes when you go to an exam."

Steve Gurney's tips for overcoming nerves


Take full breaths

Step backwards and create distance between you and your nervous feeling. Understand that you're not a nervous person, you just have a nervous feeling.

Observe the nervous feeling without judgement.

Ask the feeling what its purpose is, and thank it for giving the warning.

It's okay and normal to talk to the feeling, you're not going crazy.

Get a piece of paper and write notes about the outcome you'd like. 

What small step can you take right now? Take action.

Create a confidence anchor for a more useful state.