My upcoming black belt test is really important to me, so it’s normal to feel nervous. And it’s not necessarily a bad thing: a reasonable level of nervousness will motivate me to train harder and prepare better before my test, and will inspire me to push harder during my test.
But what if those nerves get out of hand? What if I become so anxious in the next two weeks that it affects my sleep, my appetite, my ability to focus, my recovery, and my performance during the actual test?
A moderate amount of anxiety can be a positive thing. An excessive amount, however, can be detrimental to my health, well-being and performance.
I need to get a handle on that belt test anxiety, and fast. So how can I do this?
Anxiety is About Control
The common theme with all forms of anxiety or stress is control: we want control; we don’t feel in control; we feel anxious as a result of this perceived lack of control. When faced with too much uncertainty, when faced with the unknown, our insecurities can erupt, and cause us to worry incessantly about all of the things—real or imagined—that threaten our sense of control.
And it could be anything that leads to this anxiety. Something real, like your black belt test or a karate tournament. Or something imagined, like a unicorn apocalypse or a world pandemic. (Just kidding. It’s real.)
But whatever it is, it is the perceived lack of control that creates so much stress for us. So addressing this issue of control is a great place to start.
Sphere of Control Exercise
Here’s an activity to try to help put that anxiety into perspective. (There is a printable version of this under Recommended Resources below.)
Consider these three circles. The smallest circle represents the things over which you have total control. The medium-sized circle represents things over which you have some control. And the large circle represents things over which you have no control.
If you have a belt test coming up, or a job interview, or a pandemic to deal with, filling out these circles will help put things into perspective.
For my belt test, there are actually a lot of things over which I have total control. How much training I do to prepare. How much stretching and recovery work. How well I eat. My sleep routine. My mental game, such as any positive self-talk I engage in to prepare myself.
Then there are things over which I have some control. If I actually sleep. My thoughts.
At the other end of the spectrum, there are things over which I have no control. Whether I pass or not. Whether the test proceeds or gets cancelled. Whether I get COVID-19, and have to cancel.
Of course, there are a multitude of things that I could put in each of these circles, but you get the gist.
Control the Controllables, Let Go of the Rest
What I love about this activity is that shows you where to focus your attention. The items over which you have total control: these are the things you need to focus on. You are in charge of those things. So take charge. Control what you can actually control.
This will not only increase your feelings of control and thus help decrease your anxiety, it will also increase your confidence, improve your performance, and help you kick ass. So do it.
As for the things over which you have some control, just think about them for now. Do you need to control these things? Are there times when you could push them closer to the total control sphere? Are there things that push them towards the no control sphere? Just roll it around in your head for now.
Lastly, the no control things are beyond your control. Nothing you can do will alter this fact. Accept it. Let it go. And overwhelming as those things may be, seeing them in black and white like this can actually be somewhat liberating. “Look at how many things are beyond my control right now! No wonder I’m so stressed out!” This can be incredibly validating and helpful, to see it and frame it like this.
Keep Stress in Perspective
You’re going to feel anxious about certain unknowns, but ultimately you do have some control. And doing an exercise like the Sphere of Control is a great way to raise awareness. To remind you that you do not need to try to control things that are beyond your control. And that you can and should control the things that you can.
So now I know how to manage my anxiety for this upcoming black belt test. I will focus on the things I have control over—my training, my recovery, my sleep, my diet, my mental game—and I will let go of the rest. And while this will not eliminate my anxiety entirely, it will definitely reduce it to a degree that is manageable, so I can focus on what really matters: kicking ass at my test.
Print off the Sphere of Control Worksheet under Recommended Resources below. Consider a source of stress in your life, and figure out what areas are within your control. Then take action to control the things you can control. And try to let go of the rest.
Here is a printable version* of this activity to help you get started: