Stage Fright Sucks…
Seriously. It really sucks.
If you’re like me, you spend all sorts of time preparing for that important performance, and then when it’s time to show what you can do, you are so nervous that you perform at a fraction of your practiced potential.
Two minutes before….you would have nailed it.
Five minutes later….again a stellar performance.
But those moments when it really counts, you choke and, for some reason, you can’t do what you have ALREADY done hundreds of times before.
The bigger problem is often the advice you get is to make sure you are better prepared, the phrase “You should have practiced more,” seems to echo in your head. But the thing is…
That’s not entirely true.
If you are trying to give a stronger performance and get control of your nerves, another couple of repetitions isn’t going to help.
Now, don’t get me wrong more practice is rarely a bad thing, but to make a real difference in performance you have to be practicing the right thing.
Let’s take my imaginary friend Carter, as an example.
Carter is a relative beginner at surfing, but he is very good. When the waves are between 3-5 ft he is an absolute pro, he nails it pretty much every time, but he’s never done anything above a 7 ft wave.
Then comes a 21 ft wave.
I think there is a pretty good chance that Carter won’t do as well as he normally does at the 5 ft level. Maybe he’ll get lucky, and maybe he won’t, but the outcome is probably going to have more to do with luck then a strategy for success surfing of 20 ft waves. And even if he does survive he probably won’t do it with much grace.
Now if Carter were a musician this is the point that he might go into a spiral of self-loathing, berating himself on his inability to perform music, and slowly backing away from performance opportunities because he is not, “A Performer”.
But being a surfer he probably just realizes that it’s time to learn some skills to handle the next 20 ft wave.
Oh, the carefree life of imaginary surfers…
But seriously…as musicians and performers we do this over and over again. Except, after we failed at the 21ft wave we go back and practice on the 5 ft waves again, then go back to the 21 ft wave assuming that somehow this time will be different, and it rarely is.
The reason it’s rarely different is that we don’t understand the difference between content and context.
Content vs Context
Content – The Material
Context – The Environment surrounding the material.
In Carter’s story the content is the fundamental skills of surfing, and the context is the height of the waves.
As musicians the content is the material we are performing, and the context is where, and under what conditions we are performing it.
If we only focus on the skills required to master the content, stage fright and performance anxiety will always negatively effect our performances. This is because the skills required to manage stage fright have to do with our ability to manage our reactions to the context of the performance (stress level) than the context.
These skills are often talked about but never really explained, so what ends up happening is you hear all sorts of information, from bananas to beta blockers, and a million simple platitudes like, “Just relax and have fun,” and (my personal favorite) “Just be more confident.”
Don’t get me wrong, those are great descriptions of what we would like the final result to be, but they are not necessarily a good recipe for getting there.
Learning to manage your nerves within the context of performance requires a separate set of skills. The great part about learning theses skills it is that, with each step forward you will gain noticeably more control over your nerves and therefore your performances.
One of the first steps is to be able to relax…by choice.
So, just simply tell yourself to relax and… Voila.
HAHA JUST KIDDING, let’s be serious, when was the last time that really worked for you?
But you absolutely can learn how to do it. The key is by focusing your mind and body on the same outcome.
MIND – BODY UNITY
To be able to relax on command the first place we need to begin is with the connection between the mind and the body.
While it’s true that one influences the other, it’s important to be aware that the same one doesn’t always lead.
For example, if your mind is racing from thought to thought, just taking deep breaths is equally as likely to make you hyperventilate as to calm you down.
However, if you can tell your body to relax (via deep breathing) and give your mind something to focus on (for example, the physical sensation of the air in your nostrils) you’ll find that you can have markedly more success.
As you are doing that, start to notice how your body relaxes a little bit more on each exhale. Actually search for a sense of calm, maybe your shoulders are relaxing, maybe you notice your heart beat slowing, or maybe you just start feeling better. Make sure to notice any small changes.
Obviously this is a simplified version. but even if you start to use just those three simple steps, relax your body, focus your mind, and look for and expect results, you’ll find that you begin to have greater control over your performance nerves.
To really get the most out of this practice check out my free report, Calm on Command. This report teaches not just the science behind the theory but also several actionable techniques to get control of your nerves, by focusing your mind while relaxing your body, so that you can begin to take back control of your nerves and become the performer you always knew you could be.