OVERCOMING PERFORMANCE ANXIETY

To become a performer of music in all aspects of the art, it takes perseverance and a work ethic next to none. You must be dedicated to learn, learn and learn. At times it can be a lonely path as you wrestle with doubts and self limiting beliefs. For this reason I have dedicated my focus in coaching artists to be the best versions of themselves. One obstacle I faced that no one talked about until I experienced it was performance anxiety.

Performance anxiety can feel debilitating for anyone, especially a performer about to get on stage. It can leave you with a dry mouth, knotted stomach, and sabotage your breathing technique. It can be anything from pre-show nerves, to feeling like you can’t get on stage at all. But regardless of how severe your symptoms are, it’s hour thoughts about it that really hurt you, and they don’t have to ruin the magic of performing.

It describes the fear that something will go wrong when you sing, or rap or perform spoken word. It’s when self-doubt, over-analysis, and worry impacts the performance.
One of the biggest symptoms is analytical thinking. Negative thought patterns can be so inhibiting they affect the singer emotionally and physically.

Performance Anxiety is what happens when you focus on yourself negatively until your paralysed by the thoughts of what could be. The analytical thinking produces anxious feelings, giving out a physical response.

Negative thoughts can turn the smallest event into a personal nightmare in your mind. Thought is our ability to create images in our minds, the images are not real, they are just images. What could happen is not real as it hasn’t been lived yet. We all at some stage in our lives have felt butterflies in our stomach, that uncomfortable feeling, your internal sensor alarm warning you of impending danger of an event you play out in your mind. It comes from our over thinking that produces an emotional response that can cripple us. Our tendency is to analyse more rather than let go of the thoughts and be in the moment. There is no need to fear our own thoughts as they are harmless.

It’s our thoughts about events, not the events themselves that make them seem painful.

For me I found it as a result of overthinking, coming to the conclusion that performing was going to be a negative experience, rather than a liberating challenge. In reality performing was my passion, It was my release towards my true self but my own thoughts were sabotaging me.

How could I turn what I love into a threat?

I’ve heard it described like being heckled non stop during your performance, and stopping your performance as you get into an argument with the heckler, except that you are the heckler and it’s your own mind doing the heckling. You get so involved in your internal struggle that you become distanced from your actual performance.

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We get tricked into focusing on ourselves, wrestling against anxiety in a vain effort to get it to submit. One of the keys to mastering performance for me was to become so involved in the moment that my thoughts didn’t matter. What mattered was the moment I was in. Our thoughts aren’t real, they dwell in the past and future. What I mean is they focus on the past, when things may not have gone as they should or they are busy creating scenarios in the future. Our thoughts are not real, just our imaginations replaying the past or playing out scenarios we haven’t lived through. All the while we are missing the moment, not truly living life in its fullness. Sometimes we need to quiet the thoughts, still our minds and stay in the moment. It’s not the events in our lives that hurt us it’s our thoughts about these events. Our thoughts have no life in and of themselves, we give them life by focusing in on them.

Our thoughts around performing can prevent you from doing what you enjoy and can adversely affect your career. A singer’s voice might shake, or a rapper or spoken word artist might forget their lyrics. The person may believe these mistakes are evidence their anxiety was warranted. They may avoid future performances. This action prevents the person from finding success. When the person must perform again, their thoughts about past “failures” will cause even more anxiety. Performance anxiety can cause a large toll on a person.

Worst of all, performance anxiety can negatively affect your self-esteem and self-confidence. For some being the center of attention and having all eyes on you can be stressful as you think of all the worst case scenarios, for others they focused on past experiences where things didn’t go as you would of liked. Yet there are many who sit in between these two markers and live in the ‘now.’ What would happen if we dismissed every negative thought as it entered our minds?

page3image33294976Being centre stage is a reward for your hard work and commitment.

When we let negative thoughts run rampant our bodies can react in much the same way as it would if it were being attacked. It’s all in the mind, the traitor inside, your inner foe.

Our thoughts are harmless but what can hurt us is how we relate to those thoughts. At times we focus on them until it produces negative emotions and then we can feel like we are on the downward run on the rollercoaster. All of this created by a thought about an event that hasn’t happened yet. Next your “fight-or-flight” mechanism kicks in, which is why symptoms of stage fright are similar to symptoms that occur when you are in real danger. In our minds we produce the negative energy that translates into stress and anxiety, when it’s time to perform in front of people, resulting in performance anxiety. All of this created within our own minds.

You only have to live hard experiences once, don’t allow your mind to keep you reliving that moment like your locked in a time loop. All the while you are missing out on living on the moment.

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Letting go of negative thoughts and not over analysing them is the start. You have a choice, let your thoughts pass through your mind or hold onto them and keep reliving the negativity.

Nobody is perfect, and your audience does not expect perfection. It’s OK to make mistakes!

The next step we take is to learn how to redirect our negative thoughts, beliefs, images, and predictions about performing in public. I always remind myself that my inner world reflects my outer world. I never totally overcame performance anxiety, yet there were things I could do to control my emotions and reduce my negative thoughts.

  1. Remember it’s your thoughts making you feel the way you do. Your thoughts about what your going to do.
  2. Let your thoughts come and go!
  3. Don’t give negative thoughts too much attention.
  4. Stay in the moment.
  5. Shift the focus from yourself and your fear to your true purpose. You

    are there to contribute something of value to your audience.

  6. Stop scaring yourself with thoughts about what might go wrong.

    Instead, focus your attention on thoughts and images that are calming

    and reassuring. Focus on what can go right.

  7. We are born with only two fears. The fear of falling and the fear of loud

    noises, all other fears are learnt. If something is learnt it can be

    unlearnt.

  8. Refuse to think thoughts that create self-doubt and low confidence.

    Use positive affirmations to help you reprogram your thoughts.

    Substitute every negative thought about yourself with a positive one.

  9. Practice ways to calm and relax your mind and body, such as deep

    breathing, relaxation exercises, yoga, and meditation.

  10. Visualise your performance, every aspect of it until it feels like a past

    event. Then allow your subconscious to be your autopilot and fulfil

    what your mind has already seen.

  11. Exercise, eat well, and practice other healthful lifestyle habits. Try to

    limit caffeine, sugar, and alcohol as much as possible.

  12. Always focus on your strength and ability to handle challenging

    situations. Remind yourself of times in your past you have overcome

    an obstacle.

  13. Practice, practice and practice.
  14. Make connections with your audience: Smile and greet people,

    thinking of them as friends rather than a threat. They have come to see you, they are rooting for you. Allow them to be apart of the performance.

  1. Stand or sit in a self-assured, confident posture. Remain warm and

    open and make eye contact.

  2. Give up trying to be perfect and know that it is OK to make mistakes.

    Be natural, be yourself and enjoy the moment.

Take the emotions and passion you feel for your music and channel it into your performance. Don’t try to “suppress it”. If you try to suppress it, it will work against you, so express it!

Don’t beat yourself, they are your thoughts. Develop an accepting attitude toward them, take a few steps to calm yourself, and then shift your focus to the moment. It’s what you have been working towards. It’s like the athlete waiting for the starters pistol, they are in the moment. If they are focused on past races or afraid of the future they will be left on the line when the starters pistol fires. They are in the moment, anticipating, waiting to be released towards their destiny, in every sound, every breath, they use all the nervous energy to propel themselves towards the finish line, their goal.

“I used to be a complete victim of whatever thoughts were crossing my mind, like a ship in a violent storm without a means of steering. Now I feel like the captain of my own ship. My steering wheel is my understanding that my thoughts are creating my pain. I now have at least some control over my thoughts. It’s not that I never experience fear, anxiety, I do, but my perspective is now different. I know that I’m navigating my own ship. Rather than worrying about the performance to come, you remain calm allowing you live each moment fully.”

Thinking is a voluntary function and we all have the ability to dismiss thoughts that are negative. Not getting caught up in negative thoughts starts with the intention not to.

Basil Reynolds

Coaching Consultant

Finding the Music Inside