It is no secret to those who have performed along side of me that I have performance anxiety. This condition at times is mild, but is just as often nearly debilitating. In my quest to try to figure out how to manage the feelings of fear and anxiety just before a performance, I have come across a few tidbits that have helped me to manage my fear.
As I have tried to think about this scientifically, I realize that I focused on myself intensely. This obsessive self-focus created an imaginary stonewall for my natural expressions. I found myself confirming self-imposed barriers of my inept skill at performing at a high level, and would be scared when an opportunity came along to play in another group, or solo recital. In time, I have realized this fact and have learned the skills to manage the fear in my mind. You can also squash the bug of fear and self-imposed restrictions if you believe that the art of performing (or even public speaking) is something you can conquer and master.
Perhaps the best way to begin managing performance anxiety is to BE PREPARED. Johnny Carson once said, “Talent alone won’t make you a success. Neither will being in the right place at the right time, unless you are ready. The most important question is: Are your ready?” Working out the rough spots before you take the stage is key!
I recently came across a blog post from one of my favorite sights, the Bulletproof Musician. The post focused on the importance of keeping things simple under pressure. Now to you, this may seem like common sense advice. But to me it was a concept that I have never even considered. The author of the blog, Dr. Noa Kageyama, pointed out that:
In a high-pressure performance or audition, there are dozens, if not hundreds of things that vie for our attention – most of which are not going to help us play better. The nerves and jitters we feel. The new environment we are in. The other people around us, our own doubt and fears, the acoustics, the temperature of the hall, the need to bow, smile, and maintain positive body language – the list is endless. With so much going on around us, it’s easy to get frazzled, to feel scattered, and become overwhelmed by it all.
On one hand, that’s what proper dress rehearsals and preparation are for. But even with all the preparation in the world, it’s not necessarily the case that we will naturally maintain our focus on the most important ingredients for peak performance.
If we want to be assured of staying focused on the most impactful, task-relevant, and performance-enhancing factors, we have to take a bit of time to figure out what these might be in advance.
Dr. Kageyama then went on to suggest that a performance cue, such as a word or a phrase, that you could tell yourself before a performance will help to manage the thoughts and fears of performance anxiety. He asks, “what’s the single most valuable piece of advice your teacher gave you in regards to performing your best? As in, if you just focus on and prioritize this one thing, you’ll more than likely end up having a pretty great performance.” This could be your performance cue. Your hint to yourself of how to keep your wits during the upcoming performance (or the next difficult section of the piece you’re performing).
So next time you’re on stage, or about to give that big presentation – BE PREPARED and KEEP IT SIMPLE!