Driving Instructor Tips for Nerves
Most learner drivers experience nerves on the day of their driving test. Experiencing nerves before a test or assessment is a conditioned automatic response based on our past experiences of similar situations. This is why we all experience different levels of nerves because we have all had different past experiences.
It is important to bear in mind that a manageable level of nervousness is actually beneficial. An optimal level of nerves (again different for everyone) helps a learner to be focused on the task of driving and improves their concentration so that they can respond appropriately to each situation as they are driving. If nerves increase past the optimal level however, they can have a detrimental effect on a learner's performance and possibly result in uncharacteristic mistakes and a test fail.
So, what tips can an ADI share with their learners to keep nerves at a manageable level?
Verbal Encouragement– remind your student that you believe they are ready for their test; you would not have encouraged them to book their test otherwise! You have enough confidence in their ability to drive your car without you sitting next to them and that says a lot. Positive phrasing can come from you (their coach) and also from themselves so, if they have been practising any positive phrases in their lessons ensure they remember to use them on test day.
Imagery– the chances are you know which element of the test is bothering your learner the most. Remind them of all the lessons when they have completed that element successfully and if you have time, suggest that they replay their successes in a mini mind movie. Replaying successes will boost their confidence and interrupt negative thinking.
Managing emotions – negative emotions tend to increase a learner's experience of stress and nerves. Whereas positive emotions are more likely to help keep nerves at a manageable level. How we interpret physical sensations into emotions is up to us. Compare the physical sensations of nerves to excitement, they both include that sensation of butterflies in the stomach and being fidgety. Encourage your students to choose the more positive interpretation of excitement.
Encourage your students to smile as this immediately sends a safe, calm signal to the mind and body and helps them feel more positive.
Humming or a singing a tune to themselves is also helpful in managing emotions. It resets the Vagus nerve which is connected to all the internal organs and is the nerve responsible for rest and relaxation (among other things), helping your learner to feel more positive.
Managing physical stress symptoms – If interpreting physical sensations as excitement is too much of a challenge then encourage your learner to see them as a sign of readiness for action instead. Keep an eye on your learner's body language. Rather than hunching over themselves in a defensive or protective posture encourage them to sit or stand up straight. Not only does this allow them to breathe properly but it triggers a physiological response in the body to feel more positive and confident. Find out more by searching for Amy Cuddy and Power Poses on YouTube.
Breathing - Breathing calms the Vagus nerve, slows the heart rate, reduces physical symptoms of stress and distracts the mind from negative thoughts. Breathing is the closest thing to a magic wand when it comes to controlling nerves. If your learner has not been practising breathing exercises before the day of the test it is probably best not to introduce them at the test centre. Instead, if you notice that your learners breathing rate has increased in response to nerves, simply suggest that they breathe out through pursed lips as if blowing out a candle. This will help them to focus on their out breath which is responsible for calming and relaxing the body.
Verbal encouragement, imagery, managing emotions and physical signs of stress are all key elements of Bandura's (1997) theory of self-efficacy (commonly used in sports and business coaching) and can help your learners to believe in their own driving ability and increase their confidence in preparation for their driving test.