What if anxiety or ‘nerves’ is NOT the problem?


How do I not let my nerves get to me? If I feel nervous, I don’t think I can perform well and if I don’t feel nervous, then I think my performance would go as I practice, but it doesn’t.  What can I do?


This is an interesting question that came in as a result of our survey on the use of mental skills.  If you haven’t taken the survey and would like to, it will only take a few minutes of your time:  CLICK HERE.

I know, first hand, how frustrating it can be to have practiced so hard and prepared so fully for a performance just to have it crumble right before your eyes and the eyes and ears of hundreds of people in the audience or those of the panel at an audition or competition.

Prior to performance musicians report varying stages and levels of ‘nerves’ that negatively impact performance.  Some performers experience their nerves in the way their body feels—shaking, shortness of breath or shallow breathing,  and sweaty palms.  Others feel anxious by the way their minds focus on unproductive or unhealthy thoughts pertaining to their performance or themselves as performer.  Other performers get so nervous they can’t seem to focus at all, because their thoughts are continually racing.

Most of us may have concluded that we weren’t practicing enough and began trying harder, practicing more, preparing even better, or were just tempted to give up and conclude (I know I did) that “I am just a nervous performer!” or “I must have performance anxiety!”

WAIT!   What if your anxiety—your ‘nerves’—are not the real problem here?

You may have read articles or stories about great performers who threw up before every performance or who have experienced the same kind of ‘nerves’ you have felt, but were able to perform their best anyway.  What’s up with them?  Well, I don’t believe their anxiety or ‘nerves’ magically disappeared.  Successful performers have learned to use their nerves—to channel their energy/excitement (nerves/anxiety) and to focus on what will enable them to perform at their best.

What do they know that you don’t?

These successful performers know how to establish an optimal pre-performance mindset—one that allows them to focus on what is most important to an enjoyable and successful performance.   This mindset consists of four main tasks:

1. Focus:

  • Successful performers have learned to direct their attention to and focus on the present moment.
  • Successful performers focus on things that they can control in their performances—their own thoughts, behaviors, attitude, and performances rather than focus on others.
  • Successful performers focus on the process, rather than the outcome or result of a performance.

2. Attitude:  [more on AttitudeHow Auditions Are Different—Or Are They?]

  • Successful performers embrace pre-performance nerves or jitters as helpful indicators that they are ready to perform.
  • Successful performers know how to switch their mindset from practice (self-coaching and evaluating) to performance (trusting and relying) mode. [see  I’m Practicing, So What’s Missing? ]

3. Energy:

  • Successful performers refuse to spend energy on thoughts or things outside their control.
  • Successful performers refuse to spend energy reading other people’s minds.

4. Actions:

  • Successful performers know how to center themselves, their focus, and their bodies to be calm and ready for performance.
  • Successful performers anticipate unexpected events or distractions and devise solutions for dealing with each as they arise.
  • Successful performers know how to calm their inner critic by recognizing when they engage in negative or unproductive self-talk, by recognizing what triggers these thoughts, and by learning how to shift thoughts back to the present.  [ see Performance Anxiety and Fear of Failure ]
  • Successful performers eliminate expectations from their game plan.  They don’t place demands on themselves or their performances.  Instead, they rely on and trust their practice and preparation and play or sing in the moment.
  • Successful performers regularly recognize, refute, and reframe doubts immediately as they occur.
  • Successful performers devise pre-performance routines that enable them to stay present, focused, and calm prior to performance.

Although, at times it may seem so, performing well under pressure is a not an hereditary trait or a gift from God, it is a learned skill.   Just as successful performers have learned the kind of focus, attitude, energy, and actions it takes to channel their nerves into performances they are proud of, so can you!  Let me know your thoughts or experiences with nerves and how you are able to achieve an optimal pre-performance mindset.

To read more on confidence in performing: Improving Self-Confidence for Musicians!Trust and Play








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  1. We should learn to think correctly and put away wrong opinions from our mind. However, it is a difficult, but it is achievable through hard and continuous practicing.

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