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Performance Anxiety

As a singer, performing was what I lived for. I loved being the character and telling the story by becoming part of it. I felt as if I were the one making the music happen and making the story unfold. I felt totally immersed in the emotional movement of the music and story; that my performance, aided by my colleagues, was taking us all on a new journey each and every performance. I was living each and every moment. I loved gathering the audience up in my arms and telling them from my soul that I was going to take them on a wonderful adventure; that they were safe with me, so sit back and enjoy the journey. That was the story I was telling myself and believed to be the truth.

As a singer, auditioning was like hell to me. I was never especially good at it because I felt totally exposed and naked to those listening. It seemed to be only about my voice, not so much about the story I knew I could tell. It seemed impossible with one aria, to tell any kind of a story. I thought they were judging and comparing me and my voice to others. I felt that there was not enough physical distance between us so I created more by keeping those listening even further away never inviting them into my story space. I was almost always miserable, because to me it was all about did I have the high and low notes; was I too fat or thin, too overpowering or blah, too tall, too short, etc. I felt I was always trying to second guess what they wanted and trying to give it to them. That was the story I was telling myself and believed it to be the truth.

All of us have these kinds of stories that we tell ourselves. Some singers are really spectacular at auditions and fall apart during performances and visa versa. It goes both ways and often seems to be a never ending battle. How does one become more balanced with these two components of having a singing career; these two very important challenging elements of getting work?

"Our Age of Anxiety is, in great part, the result of trying to do today's jobs with yesterday's tools."
~ Marshall Mcluhan

What I believed to be the truth in these two situations, the story I was telling myself, continued to happen over and over again with each new experience. And because I believed the story I was telling myself, and reinforced it each time I auditioned or performed, I continued to get the results I always got.

That is how we create belief systems, we have an idea and we back it with lots of experience. Then we can know ahead of time and be sure of the results we get. The stories we tell ourselves come true because we haven't decided to change our minds about how we believe what we believe. This is how we get stuck in our Comfort Zones. It may not be so comfortable, but it sure is familiar and that is what we are looking for. Making a change in our belief systems takes courage and if we want to make a change, we need to become a sleuth. We have to really delve into our memories and go as far back as we can to find the very first time this type of experience happened in our lives. Then take the time to look at our memory of it; feel it, hear it, and realize that we are continuing to do the same thing over and over again. This is the pattern. We take the memory of the previous audition or performance and projected it onto a screen as the outcome of our future auditions or performances; how they would look, sound, feel, smell and taste. Just thinking about it even if you don't have an audition coming up would create a state of anxiety and fear of being judged, criticized, and having to prove yourself. Our inner voice, the voice of the Brat says, "See, you're not worth it or you're just not good enough." We start thinking that it is just the way it is and we could never change it.

"There's as much risk in doing nothing as in doing something."
~ Trammell Crow

Here's the great news! You can change it anytime you want. It is totally up to you to have the courage to do the work. If you're up for it, here's how it works.

Your unconscious or subconscious mind is responsible for all the automatic-pilot functions of our bodies like:

  • Breathing, your heart beating, your spleen doing whatever a spleen does, your voice box making sound, cells replacing themselves as others die off, the birthing process, etc. You get the picture.
  • Learned activities - walking, singing, swimming, talking, etc.
  • Monitoring sensory inputs like sights, sounds, feelings, tastes and smells.
  • Storing memories.
  • Generating dreams and using your imagination.
  • Filtering unwanted external stimuli. (We take in about 2 million pieces of information per second. Our unconscious mind filters it down to the 7-9 items our conscious mind can deal with at a time and needs to pay attention to.)

Your conscious mind is responsible for:

  • How you treat your body - the food you eat, the exercise you get, how much and how well you sleep, etc.
  • Representing and presenting your Personal Brand.
  • The choices you make.
  • Creating memories.
  • Changing your mind about the stories you tell yourself.
  • Changing your belief systems.
  • Decisions about learning something new.
  • Creating rituals.

It sounds simple enough, doesn't it? It is simple, just not easy. Change takes perseverance, commitment and practice. This transformation is up to you.

"What we can or cannot do, what we consider possible or impossible, is rarely a function of our true capability. It is more likely a function of our beliefs about who we are."
~ Anthony Robbins

Let me tell you what I discovered about changing my own mind-set and beliefs concerning auditioning and performing. I realized that during an audition if I sang an aria from an opera I had already performed, the fear and anxiety went away and I would be very satisfied and pleased with the outcome of my audition. I started analyzing the difference between the arias I felt comfortable and confident in singing and those that didn't work for me. What I realized was that when I felt comfortable and confident about an aria, it was because I wasn't thinking about my technique, my sound or impressing anyone. I wasn't listening as the inner critic. That was a huge turning point for me. I couldn't believe it could be that simple. I didn't really care whether they liked what I did or not. I didn't have to prove anything to anyone. l allowed myself to express how I felt about the music, words and character. I realized I was performing rather than tying to show them how good I was, how great my high/low notes were and how loud I could make them. I had stopped trying to WOW them and I stopped trying to second guess what they were talking about amongst themselves while I was singing. I discovered I had a purpose, which was to express myself through the music. I started to break it down even further and here are some of the ideas I used to help myself.

"The difficulty lies not so much in developing new ideas as in escaping from old ones."
~ John Maynard Keynes

In order to start this process of change, you need to first recognize and process the memories you want to change, then learn their lessons. Here are some suggestions for doing that.

Before you start this process, make sure you have set aside enough time and created a safe, calm and comfortable space in which to try it. My suggestion is to read the instructions a couple of times and then try it as you need to have your eyes closed. Or have someone else read it to you one bullet point at a time with you nodding to let them know when to move on. Have a glass of water available.

  • Close your eyes and spend some time listening to your inner voice, or as I like to call it, The Brat, and see what he/she is really saying in there that helps perpetuate anxiety and fear.
  • Acknowledge these thoughts and say out loud the words you are hearing in your head. This will quiet the Brat so you can get on to the next part of this exercise.
  • With your eyes still closed, see just how far back in time you can go in your memory bank to locate the very first time you experienced anxiety and fear. Perhaps you need to go back into your childhood to find this important memory. What was the memory?
  • In your imagination, allow yourself to float high above that memory which will give you an opportunity to examine it in a more detached manner without all the emotional impact. Examine it.
  • What do you need to learn from this event so you can release the anxiety and fear but still preserve the learning?
  • Now, still floating above that memory, move further back to a time that happened before this memory that holds the fear and anxiety appeared. From this position as you look toward the present day/now, from your new position above and before that specific event, notice that there is little or no emotional attachment.
  • Go back to that first fear/anxiety event and float down into it to check to see if you still feel fear and anxiety or if they are gone. If it isn't gone completely, it should be less intense.
  • Quickly float directly above the event and float forward toward today/now. As you float forward toward today/now, watch and notice that as you move forward, each new event that holds any anxiety and fear loses its emotional energy as you pass over them one by one. It's like watching yourself delete each letter from a really long word you have typed on your computer.
  • The memories and learning are still preserved but because you have processed the initial cause of fear and anxiety, the emotional content of each succeeding event is no longer there.
  • Ask your unconscious mind if it agrees to allow this anxiety and fear to be released. You will hear an answer.
  • Open your eyes and come back into the here and now. Take several deep breaths, stand, stretch and drink some water.
  • Now, think about the most recent past audition or performance and see if there is any anxiety or fear left in the memory. Think about any upcoming auditions or performances and see if there is any anxiety or fear. There might be some, but you will notice that most of it is gone.
  • To secure your success, you must repeat this exercise as often as it takes during the first 24 - 48 hours if you want it to completely vanquish the fear and anxiety from your life.

This re-patterning tool must be repeated with no distractions using all of your focus. Then to insure your total victory over these negative emotions, you must practice this exercise 3 times a day, morning, noon and evening for the next 24 days. If you follow through as suggested you will lose the fear and anxiety you would otherwise experience even when you are simply thinking about the words - audition - performance. This exercise works with processing and releasing almost any emotion that is getting in your way. You will retain the memory and the learning but lose the negative emotional significance and attachment.

Set up and master a new set of rituals - Rituals are not the same as habits. Almost anything that you do with an intention can become a ritual, if it helps you connect, release, heal, anchor, or honor some aspect of your life. Give your imagination and intuition free reign.

I started dissecting what the process was that put me in the "good place" to audition and perform. In doing so, I created a list from beginning to end of how this "good" process worked for me and built a conscious, new set of rituals for myself which I practiced mindfully over and over again. I didn't even have to have an upcoming audition; I just needed to rehearse my new ritual every day until it became the default system and the "good" habit. In the beginning it didn't work all the time, but I kept it up until one day I noticed I didn't have to think about it, it just happened. You can do the same.

"We have to act our way into a new way of thinking rather than think our way into a new way of acting."
~ Unknown

Here is a ritual for creating a positive anchor.

  • Start by closing your eyes. Think of a time when you were tremendously successful at something. Look at, hear and feel the energy surrounding this event.
  • Make the picture larger, brighter and more colorful.
  • If there are sounds, intensify them.
  • Make your picture of success and the accompanying feelings as strong as you possibly can.
  • As the picture and feelings decrease, open your eyes and come back to the room.
  • Close your eyes once again and go through the exact same process again, intensifying the sights, sounds and feelings.
  • Just as they are starting to peak, press the thumb and middle finger of your right hand together tightly and hold it.
  • Allow the good feelings of the picture to reach its peak. Just before they start to fade, release your fingers and open your eyes.
  • Take some deep breaths and stretch.
  • Now press your thumb and middle finger together and you will notice that the same feeling you had when you were doing the exercise comes rushing back.
  • If you practice this several times a day, this feeling of success and well being will be available to you whenever you need it.

"Life is not a static thing. The only people who do not change their minds are incompetents in asylums - who can't, and those in cemeteries."
~ Unknown

Sometimes we just need some practical ideas for reinforcing our rate of success as we audition or perform. Some suggestions might be:

  • Find an inexpensive but good accompanist. Give him/her your 5-8 audition arias to learn well. Then get together every week without fail for a run through. Do not stop to make corrections or fix anything. Always start with the aria you do best. And I mean each time you audition and practice. You can mix up the rest of them but always start with the one you perform best. You will notice that as the weeks go by, you start actually performing each piece as opposed to trying to fix technical things. You think more about the story and character you are portraying. You experiment without stopping to fix anything. When it comes time to actually audition, you have a very solid package to present with panache.

"Each morning when I open my eyes I say to myself: I, not events, have the power to make me happy or unhappy today. I can choose which it shall be. Yesterday is dead, tomorrow hasn't arrived yet. I have just one day, today, and I'm going to be happy in it."
~ Groucho Marx

Remember the newsletter about the Heart Connection? Well, here's a good exercise to try. This exercise allows all parts of you to align physically, mentally, and spiritually. It allows you to move into your creative right brain, the place you want to be when performing. Have someone else read this to you because you will need your eyes closed.

  • Stand with your feet a little bit apart. Allow yourself to be totally in your body. Starting at you head feel as if you are sinking down into your body. (pause) It's a nice, heavy, peaceful and satisfying feeling. (pause) Sink down into your chest, then down into your belly, further down into your legs and finally down into your feet. Feel like you are growing roots deep into the ground. (pause) You feel like a tree growing tall and strong with very deep roots. (pause) Now notice all of your molecules moving quickly, zipping around in your entire body like small pieces of greased light. (pause) You can feel them, hear them and see them. (pause) It's a happy but chaotic feeling. (pause) Now notice that you have a switch, like an ordinary light switch in your heart area. (pause) When you feel ready, and only in your imagination, flip that switch to on and watch what happens. (pause) You might notice that all of your molecules are undulating together at the same speed and in the same direction. (pause) Notice how calm and peaceful you feel. How perfectly centered you are. (pause) Allow your body and heart to memorize this feeling and when you are ready, open your eyes and come back to the room.

Often we feel physical tension and aren't sure how to quickly release it when it comes time to perform or audition.

  • Try this. Simply be aware of the back of your tongue where it goes over the edge down into your throat. If you consciously release the tension in that part of your tongue, your whole body will relax. Try it when you can't go to sleep at night. Works like a charm.

"What lies beyond us and what lies before us are tiny matters when compared to what lies within us."
~ Ralph Waldo Emerson

And last but not least, I want to once again remind you about your personal space and how important it is to take charge of it. It is yours to command. You can include or exclude people, places and things with it. It's all up to you. Try this when you are in place ready to audition or perform. Before you can use this technique, it needs to be practiced so you feel physically comfortable with the process and you make it your own. Here is what you will need to master.

  • Create the most beautiful rug you can imagine. Chose the colors, pattern, texture, thickness, width, length, etc. Really see, hear and feel that rug.
  • Now notice that you are standing on one end of the rug and the rest is rolled up from the opposite end until it rests at your feet. (If you are at an audition, include your pianist on your end of the rug. If you are on stage, include the stage behind you with the set, and your colleagues on your end of the rug.)
  • Make the rug as wide and deep as the room you are auditioning or performing in.
  • Before you start to sing, look down at the rug rolled up at your feet and in your imagination, give your rug a little kick and follow it with you eyes as it unrolls completely out to the back of the room including everyone in its path.

How do you feel now? You have just invited everyone in the room into your personal space. You are in charge here. It feels good. It also gives those listening the intense feeling that you are looking at each one of them as your head and eyes move from looking down at your feet to slowly sweeping across the audience from the front row to the last and extending all the way to the back of the room. Your eye movement has made it a very personal experience for all.

"Seek out that particular mental attribute which makes you feel most deeply and vitally alive, along with which comes the inner voice which says, `This is the real me,' and when you have found that attitude, follow it."
~ William James

I have given you many tools and suggestions for getting past the anxiety and fear one often feels when auditioning or performing. Try them all. Find what works best for you. Remember that there are some things that are on auto-pilot as far as your unconscious is concerned and you can allow that just to be. But, it is up to you to be in charge of your conscious mind by making choices that represent and allow you to present your Personal Brand to the world. It's empowering to know you have the resources to change your own life. It's energizing to take responsibility for liberating your potential. Making a commitment to continued personal growth becomes easy. You are your Brand and that gets you jobs.

Until next month, ciao, Carol

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