The brain is amazing thing: it can take ambiguous signals and interpret them in wildly different ways.
So let’s move past rabbit-ducks for a moment and consider this scenario: a teacher, Sunday evening before the first day of school. He charges his laptop, assembles his clothes. Laundered trousers. Polished shoes. Pressed shirt. Lucky tie. Goes to bed and lays awake.
Butterflies in stomach.
A few miles away, a student lays out rows of fresh, new school supplies. Pens and notebooks, a new syncing cable for her smart-phone to replace the second one she lost (one is still in her bunk and camp, and one is under the sofa cushion). She has some new, purple Chuck Tailor Converse, had her hair done, and has a new sweater for the first day of school.
She, too. Butterflies in stomach.
Are they nervous? Excited? Both?
The amygdala and hippocampus, the parts of the brain that encode threatening events into memories, have done their jobs. The student and the teacher have experienced the threats of new social situations enough times to know that stakes are high. Something could go wrong: a class could be unruly. Friends you haven’t seen in three months could be fickle. Then, the unknowns: who will sit next to you in class? Who will sit in the front row? Who will make your year a living hell?
While there is no way to avoid these anxiety-provoking situations on day one, the brain has a few tricks up its grey-matter.
The rabbit can be a duck, by choice.
The feelings one gets before a big test aren’t very different than the feelings one gets before a first date, a rock concert, even opening a gift.
In all these cases: butterflies. But we call this being “excited.” Nervousness saps your energy, weakens your morale, and can spoil your day. Excitement, on the other hand, can be harnessed to accomplish incredible things. It can turn you into a superstar. Night and day. The difference, really, is just a matter of how you look at it.
As summer comes to a close, I’d like to offer the term: ner-cited. I’m nervous, sure. But I prefer to see it as excitement.
How do I feel about the new school year? Ner-cited.
How do I feel about my new classes? Ner-cited.
How do I feel about the new initiatives I’m launching? Ner-cited.
Next time we’re entering into a strange and unknown experience, lets look that rabbit/duck-thing in the eye and shout it out loud: Get down, you adrenaline-raising ambiguous stimuli! We’re ner-cited!