The Vagus- A Little Nervousness-Success

When you get that sensation in your stomach, which we all know as the butterflies feeling, you know that you have a little challenge ahead. What you must learn is that this is a little message that while what you want brings a little challenge, this is a sign that nature is preparing you for success.

I think it was George Addair who said something like ‘success is on the other side of fear’. The measure of the extent of that fear is important. A little challenge is a good thing as long as we face it and learn from the outcome; and hopefully celebrate it.


We know that having small goals is the route to success. If a goal is too great it is harder to achieve and may prove stressful in a damaging way. Preparing to climb Everest would be a massive challenge. When that challenge is faced by having many little goals along the way, starting with thinking and planning. Success comes from achieving and celebrating the small steps.

Anticipating those small steps will bring the butterflies feeling. The whole project without steps along the way may cause panic.

There are so many examples:

Research in the University of Ohio 2014 has proven that simply by imagining exercise people could improve strength. People who had a limb immobilised while they imagined a prescribed series of exercises daily for four weeks were shown to have considerably improved strength when compared to the control group who had not exercised.

Weightlifters and athletes know of the Mind-Muscle Connection. When we focus on the muscle being exercised, the outcome of the exercise is better. This process of focus is not about straining. It does not involve increased effort, in fact for best results it requires a calm, or even a meditative like focus which excludes outside distractions.


There is an article HERE on this website about the placebo effect which demonstrates the power of just momentary thought to cure illness.

Research by Dr Alia Crumb and her associates – see a very interesting video below – showed that by explaining to housekeepers how the exercise of their normal daily routines they became fitter. This was without them changing their lifestyle in any way.

Whether you are preparing for a speech in public, or an exam or even for surgery that feeling of butterflies is your mind preparing the body for the challenge. As long as it does not bring blind panic of course!

A Healthy Mind

There is the equal and opposite effect, as there is in all of nature. While you are exercising a muscle there is a feedback to the brain and mind improving their function too. “Mens sana in corpore sano” a saying from Roman times but reflecting earlier philosophy from Thales: implying that a healthy mind comes from a healthy body, shows that this realisation is nothing new but it is now proven from science as demonstrated by Dr Crumb.

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What we all know is that once the challenge which causes that feeling in the stomach is confronted and achieved, it is followed by great feelings such as:

  • Relief
  • Excitement
  • Achievement
  • Elation
  • Exhilaration
  • Success
  • Belonging


Collectively they could be associated or equated with the Runners’ High feeling which is all of these emotions boiled into one.

The post exercise exhilaration  used to be attributed to endorphins but now said to be caused by endocannabinoids – but the actual chemical does not matter too much. The fact is that the exercise produces these chemicals in the body which are therapeutic and give a natural reward in the emotion of the Runners’ High.

All great emotions are nature’s reward and a signal that what you are doing is right and therapeutic. These chemicals produce the best environment in the brain for nerve cell growth.

The gentle and fleeting feeling which we all know as butterflies is perhaps a good benchmark of where you should set your goals. It tells you that there is a challenge ahead and it is manageable. As you are reminded of the challenge ahead your mind begins to prepare you. It sends the message to prepare the body and as it passes it leaves you a little more prepared.

This is just the same mechanism as the immobilised patient exercising by thought, and the  entire body improving in fitness simply by having the knowledge that what you are doing is beneficial.

So if you want to achieve and be successful; no matter what the objective is, you must plan. Develop the right mindset and take action. It can be seen now why having many small goals is important both for easing the way to success but also for avoiding physical or mental strain and for the motivation which comes from every little success.

The support of the vagus nerve:

Once you take action in a planned and measured way, nature will not disown you but will give the ongoing preparation for the activity which you must undertake. The preparation and the reward are emotions which are biochemical, flowing through your body affecting every cell. Read the article on the vagus nerve. It is here.

So take action and see that feeling of butterflies as a sign that nature is helping you.

Learn how to apply these lessons to yourself.

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