Decisions, decisions—Worry About Performing or Not?

Ok, let’s talk about worry. . .  How many times have you worried about the weather?  If you’ve ever planned an outdoor event—a wedding, a child’s birthday party, a picnic or even when you have been planning a trip I bet you have worried about the weather!  Is it going to be nice?  Is my event going to be rained out? Will all my plans be ruined?  I’ve worked so hard all year for this one week of vacation. . .  Think of all the worrying and fretting you’ve (we’ve)  done over something like the weather—something you have NO control over!  What good did it do to worry about it?  How much influence did you have over the weather conditions by worrying or stressing about them?  How much energy did you waste by running the “what ifs” over and over in your mind?  I daresay, A LOT!

All that energy you spent worrying was wasted.  It was 100% wasted!  It didn’t have ANY effect on the weather, but it certainly had a big effect on YOU!

“Worry does not empty tomorrow of its sorrow, it empties today of its strength.”                          —Corrie Ten Boom

Worrying about performing is a little like worrying about the weather with one rather large exception.  Unlike worrying about the weather, worrying about your performing can have a tremendous negative effect on the very thing you desperately hope will be good—your performing—and like worrying about the weather, this worry, doubt, and fretting has a tremendous negative effect on you, the performer.

When it comes to your performing, what are the things you end up worrying so much about?  Scan the following list.  Recognize any of these thoughts?

  • Will I perform up to others’ expectations?
  • Will I perform as well as I do in practice?
  • Will I impress the right people?
  • Will I embarrass myself?
  • Will I mess up?
  • Will I fail?

Your worry may be listed above or you may have another one on an endless list of worries about what might happen when you perform.  An important thing to remember about these worries is that some—maybe most—are totally outside of our control—just like the weather!  We spend tons of time worrying and fretting about how we are going to be perceived or if we will win this audition or that competition or if we’ll please this or that person.  STOP IT!  This kind of worry wastes both our time and energy.

Take one or more of the questions above that illustrates one of your worry thoughts and run it through the following decision tree*:

Let’s look at one or two of the worries above and take it through the decision process illustrated above.  Let’s look at the first one, “Will I perform up to others’ expectations?”  Go to the top of the decision tree, “Is performing up to others’ expectations within my control?”  YES or NO?  When determining your answer here, how can you even know what someone else’s expectation for you really is?  I know we think we know, but really, can we?   Performing my best in this moment is within my control.  Performing up to someone else’s standard for me or impressing anyone is not within my direct control.  The answer is NO.  The next course of action is to shift my focus, “Stop worrying, trust my preparation, and focus on this moment.”  and then, to “Let go and perform my heart out!”

Why don’t we take “Will I mess up?” or “Will I perform as well as I do in practice?”  Go to the top of the decision tree and ask yourself the question, “Is messing up within my control?”  YES or NO?  If you answer yes, it indicates that you have decided that YES, messing up or not messing up is within your control so go to the next course of action, “Stop worrying!”   and go on to the next important course of action, “Shift focus…”  These two words are incredibly important to performers.  Learning that you can shift your focus and practicing doing so is a great mental skill.  You can actually shift your focus from the worry and doubt you are thinking and feeling to “What can I do to make a difference?”  What can you do to influence whether you “mess up” or not?  If you honestly ask yourself this question, you will probably examine your practice and preparation first.  Next, you might want to examine what you do to prepare yourself to perform.  Do you have a pre-performance routine that works for you?  Do you remind yourself of the good things in your performing prior to performance or just play through the what-ifs of messing up?  You can make a tremendous difference in the confidence you feel going into a performance by the way you prepare for and talk to yourself about that performance.  The next course of action is “Get to doing that, then…”  (and I would like to add RIGHT NOW!).   Then,  remind yourself again “Stop worrying, trust my preparation, and focus on this moment.” and finally, “Let go and perform your heart out!”

Learning to work through doubt, fear, and worry is something that performers need to practice.  Remember to spend your time and energy on the things within your control.  Identify these things and focus on how you can make a difference in your performing with a focus on what matters most in your performing!

If you would like to work one-on-one with someone to help you work through doubts and fears, please don’t hesitate to contact me.  Download your own decision tree by clicking here and then clicking on Stop Worrying Decision Tree.

If you haven’t already, please subscribe to my site by checking out the free mp3:   Mental Strategies for Peak Performance in Music.  You will receive a monthly newsletter and tips to keep you performing at peak levels.

I would love to hear from you so please comment on your worries or how you have managed to work through doubt and anxiety in your performing. 


*Decision trees are excellent tools for helping you think through and choose between several courses of action.

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  1. LOVE THIS! Thank you for the perfect end-of-semester timing!

    • Dr. Diana Allan says:

      Thanks Debbie. It is often difficult to see that there really is a decision involved in many of the reactions we have about performing and our thinking about performing. With juries coming up for many students, it’s a good time to examine our beliefs and thoughts, run them through the gauntlet (decision tree), and see if they really hold water or just hold US back! Take a deep breath and enjoy the rest of your semester!

  2. evelyn metcalf says:

    Very interesting – most of my coaching career I have always believed that “ability” and/or “talent” does not necessarily open the door to success. In my experience, athletes have shown enormous ability along with outstanding potential for success, – definitely having the “APTITUDE’ required for a successful outcome, but unfortunately a dismal; negative “ATTITUDE” towards eg. setting the necessary goals in order to go forward.

    Hence, it has been my experience that many talented people go astray in their careers because they have very poor attitudes towards any type of discipline or commitment necessary to take their abilities and/or talent further – could be mainly a lack of sufficient confidence to do so I don.t know, or a combination of lack of confidence in their own minds regarding their own particular strengths, even though these strengths appear obvious to others who deal with them.

    Maybe it still goes right back to when we were children and we were told we were no good at whatever we were doing, or worse still, NOT ENCOURAGED AT ALL TO PURSUE THINGS WE MAY HAVE BEEN GOOD AT and consequently do not understand or believe in our own abilities and/or “so-called” potential even though others can see it. Therefore, we develop this poor “attitude” over the years to cover up for our lack of understanding when it comes to how others perceive us in our chosen careers, especially when it comes to whether or not we should persue success.

    I believe this subject is complex and multi-faceted to the point where we have to appraoch it with that in mind. I don’t believe one answer will fit all, but I do believe that hard work with the right mindset prepared to set goals and commit to a plan and introduce routines into your day will definitely help us to improve no matter what we are trying to achieve. We can all do better. You do not necessarily have to have talent and/or ability in order to do that.

    Thank you for the chance to respond. Love this subject.

    • Dr. Diana Allan says:

      Hi Evelyn,

      Yes, our mindset—no matter the source—have everything to do with our approach to anything we do. Although having talent and ability is certainly desirable, talent without effort will not lead to the kind of rewarding achievement that performers desire. You are certainly correct in saying that there is no one-size-fits-all answer, but what is consistent with most successful performers is a mindset that considers effort a necessary part of learning and achievement and that each performing experience offers a lesson for us to use to improve for next time.

      Thanks for your response!

  3. evelyn metcalf says:

    The view we adopt for ourselves I believe depends on whether our childhood experiences were positive, encouraging us from an early age to believe in our efforts’ learning to recognise that we are talented or not. Being talented with some ability and recognition and validation for same from parents etc..

    This validation and recognition would also have to apply if we have no ability or any particular talent in childhood, hopefully being encouraged early to have plans and goals in place, and be prepared to work to improve ourselves is also very much a part of our early learning. We must learn at a very early age to believe in ourselves no matter what we are able to do, or how we perform.

    You are quite right – no-one ever died of discomfort, and most of us would need to risk a little discomfort in order to break free of our COMFORT ZONES – inc. the “Performance anxiety” that some are quite comfortable with. This comfort zone I believe also handicaps a persons growth, and it should be replaced with positive affirmations, new self-talk, and a sound “pre-performance” routine, allowing ourselves to extend beyond where we are normally comfortable in order to GROW & CHANGE – this will entail a certain amount of discomfort – I love this statement “EMBRACE CHANGE’.

    What is our greatest fear – probably the fact that we have to face it “head-on” if we intend to be able to use it as a “trigger” to enable us to move on. I think it is true that some of us are so used to being afraid, we have become used to that fearful state; unwilling to change even when someone points out a way to deal with it – its our own “personal belief system, probably from childhood(ingrained) that we have built into our “PSYCHE’. Being part of our Psyche for so long it has become reasonably comfortable so we live with it, resisting change at various levels throughout our lives.

    Deliberate concentration regarding avoidance of making mistakes I believe is not a helpful way to deal with this “fact of life”. We will all make mistakes in our lifetime. Many of us make daily mistakes, while other only make them when put u nder pressure of some sort. It is a matter of learning to ONLY BE CONCERNED ABOUT WHAT IS IMMEDIATELY UNDER YOUR CONTROL, not anything ‘OUTSIDE’ of your control. It takes practice; practice & more practice – a life journey.

    However it rears its ugly head, I believe that mistakes should be built into the overall “practice session – an allowance eg. making 3 mistakes per session which immediately helps the candidate relax understanding that it is no big deal to make a mistake, its what you do about it that counts. No-one de;liberately makes an error.

    However, if they do, they should have a special routine for dealing with it, rather than allowing this “shock” mistake to dismantle their practice session. If on the other hand provision had already been made allowing for mistakes; it can therefore be used as a “trigger” to “re-focus, and get on with the job, instead of just standing there not knowing what to do next in their performance.

    THERE SHOULD BE NO DEMANDS ON OURSELVES – its like saying “I must win; “I must not make any mistakes” – FORGET ABOUT THE OUTCOME – it is the journey that counts no matter what we embark on in life. It is crucial to remove the pressure and enjoy ourselves while we learn and improve. ‘ALL PRACTICE SHOULD BE DONE WITH A PURPOSE’, and only for short periods of time when mistakes and technique etc. etc. can be freely addressed. However, a PERFORMANCE MINDSET is a different session when it is about having faith in your hard work at practice, and enjoying yourself – not a time for more practice.

    • Dr. Diana Allan says:

      Well said, Evelyn. I like the concept of building in mistakes into the practice sessions. AMEN to “forget about the outcome.” Focus on outcome or results doesn’t get performers to the place they want to be. Thanks again for commenting!

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