Here’s a little scenario that always makes me laugh at myself: I’m driving down a road I’ve taken many times before … a small, residental street with a speed limit of 25 mph, when a police officer pulls out of a side street and proceeds to drive behind me. Suddenly, I become hyperaware of my steering and speed (even though my driving was perfectly stable before the cop showed up) and in my head I’m imagining all the ways he or she must be criticizing me: “I just swerved a half centimeter to my right, they must think I’m intoxicated or unfit to operate a motor vehicle!”
Now, I fancy myself a good driver if I may say so myself, and I’m a law-abiding citizen; there was really nothing for me to be worried about. So how could I wind up being self-conscious about something I’ve been doing effortlessly and successfully for years, simply because an officer of the law needed to travel behind me? Why, all of a sudden, did it seem as though I had to make an extra effort to drive in a straight line when I had absolutely no trouble doing so any other time?? In short: I was thinking too much.
Whether we’re driving, socializing, or performing, if we’re comfortable and at ease, our actions flow naturally. There’s no scrutiny; no pressure. But when we feel as though we might be criticized – which can be a threat to our self-image (or driving records) – we begin to operate on a different level of consciousness. We become too aware of even our most trivial movements, and that natural flow is disrupted. The problem is, a lot of performers have trouble tapping into their talents when that comfort zone is inaccessible.
Returning to the Comfort Zone
The best thing you can do if you’re prone to this type of thinking is catch it early and recognize it as irrational. Remember: your talents are still the same, the only thing that has changed is your perception of your surroundings. If you let that overwhelm you, your nervousness can snowball into a full-blown self-fulfilling prophecy.
“What if I do become overwhelmed? Is it the point of no return?”
Absolutely not. There are ways to conquer the physical symptoms of stage fright so they don’t hinder your performance. But just in case, learn how to overcome a mistake during a performance so it doesn’t send you into panic mode.
Another option is making use of certain meditation techniques that can bring back that natural flow and sense of ease (if you’re new to meditation, don’t worry, it really doesn’t require you to “think about nothing” – a common misconception).
Further Reading About Stage Nerves
I came across two excellent articles which I highly recommend reading or passing on to someone suffering from stage fright:
- Stage Fright - The Power of Pressure
Here is a great article that delves deeper into the mental ‘shift’ that occurs on-stage, and how to get around it:
“You’ve probably learned a song that sounded great in your practice setting but the second you played it for someone the piece completely fell apart. Here’s why. When you’re alone, playing becomes “second nature.” You don’t even think about what you’re playing. The second that your playing becomes a performance you suddenly “get real,” move into a heightened state of reality, and start analyzing everything” - © 2008, Doug Marks
○ Read full article at MetalMethod.com
- Performance Anxiety - What Really Causes Nerves
Psychology Today explores the cause of stage fright, and gives some great pointers on how to silence that inner-critic:
“Consider the excitement you feel at a wedding, watching a concert, or during the birth of a child. Most of us don’t call this sensation anxiety, in spite of the fact that the same physiological reactions are being triggered [during stage fright]. Why? For one, in these instances we’re participating and sharing in the moment with those around us. We are not focused on ourselves. We are in tune with the group.” - © 2010, Jennifer Hamady
○ Read more at PsychologyToday.com