Freedom From Performance Anxiety

When was the last time you felt anxious about an upcoming concert or audition? When was the last time you backed down from a challenge? Most performers have experienced these butterflies or anxiety prior to performance. This is not always a bad thing, but sometimes these feelings cause performers to pull back and can point to a common fear for performers—the fear of the unknown. The nature of public performing is spontaneous. We don’t really know how our performances will turn out. There is no guarantee. We have a reasonable expectation that our performing will be close to what we practiced, but our performances are in the moment and sometimes we fear that moment. When performers shy away from the unknown, they often hold back or perform tentatively. This response will cause you to feel fearful and will not lead to exciting performances.

This reminds me of a story I read several years ago:

A Persian General has the enemy spy placed against the wall as the firing squad takes aim and readies to shoot upon the given order. He slowly walks up to the spy and says, “I’m going to give you a choice about your fate. You can take the firing squad that is ready to carry out your sentence, or you can take what waits for you behind that Black Door.” The spy asks, “What is behind the Black Door?” The General replies, “I can’t tell you. It is your choice.” The spy starts to imagine the possibilities of a long and painful death. Perhaps there are tigers on the other side of the door that will tear him to shreds, he wonders. Perhaps it will be snakes, or a death that is very frightening. After much contemplation, he confirms to the general that he is ready to take the quick and simple method of execution of the firing squad. And the execution is carried out swiftly. Afterward, a young corporal who had witnessed the whole thing walks up to the General and asks, “What is behind the Black Door?” The General very calmly replies to him, “Why, it’s freedom, but, no one has ever chosen it. It seems that most people would rather choose a death that they are familiar and comfortable with than to risk the unknown.”

Everyone has their own black door.  Behind it, is the opportunity to act on your belief in yourself and your abilities.  It is an opportunity for you to venture outside your comfort zone and challenge yourself.  The familiar and comfortable may seem safe, but risking  and succeeding is empowering and only adds to your confidence.

 “Only those who will risk going too far can possibly find out how far one can go.”  —T. S. Eliot

The familiar is not always bad. This story merely illustrates the situation many performers face every day—a choice between the known and the unknown.  Trusting your preparation and going for that big audition or playing it safe and holding back.  Trusting may seem uncomfortable at first, but every time you risk, it gets easier to trust yourself.  Every time you play it safe or keep telling yourself you can’t, it gets harder to trust yourself.

Do you remember that old game show—Let’s Make a Deal?   (I was actually on that show once!)  For the last deal of every show host, Monty Hall would ask contestants if they wanted to trade what they had won earlier in the show for what was behind Door #1, Door #2, or Door #3.  Sometimes he would show them part of what was behind the doors.   Some would choose to risk what they had previously won for the unknown “prize” behind one of these doors.  The risk really paid off for some, but others would hang on to their previous prize worth $400-$500 and miss out on a car or a trip to Hawaii or $10,000.

We all have our stories—you know, the familiar stories we tell about our performing:  “I really don’t perform well at auditions.”  “You know I always choke in competitions.”  or “I can’t ever perform as well as I practice.”  If you are tired of telling those same stories to yourself—if you are wanting to break through—go through that proverbial door.  CHOOSE to put your hand on the door knob and take one-quarter turn to the right and open it!  Trust that you are prepared and ready to walk through this door!  Through that door may be the freedom that’s been there all along if you only trusted yourself to claim it.

CHOICE!   You have a definite choice in this matter.

Where does that Black Door lead you?  to taking more auditions?  to entering that competition this year?  to changing your old story? to leaving the past in the past and performing for today?  to focus on what enhances your performing instead of what tears it down?   Maybe it leads to peak performance…  Wherever it leads, it will be a whole lot more exciting on the other side of it!

In the roller coaster scene at the end of the 1999 Steve Martin movie, Parenthood, the grandmother really sums it up:

“When I was 19, Grandpa took me on a roller coaster.  Up, down.  Up down.   I always wanted to go again.  It was interesting to me that a ride could make me so frightened, so scared, so excited, and so thrilled altogether.  Some didn’t like it.  They went on the merry-go-round.  That just goes around.  Nothing.  I like the roller coaster.  You get more out of it.”

Want a program that addresses this very topic?  Check out The Relaxed Musician Program:  Mental Preparation for Confident Performances, A 14-Day Plan   Download Day 1 workbook and audio to see how the program can work for you.  With purchase, you will receive 2 great bonuses—Your Pre-Performance Checklist and the e-book, Letting Go of the Need to be Perfect!


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