Recently, I did something I had been pretty reluctant to do for a long time.
Although I’ve loved singing since I was young, I’d always shied away from singing in public.
Reasons for fearing performing or public speaking often include a fear of messing up, getting embarrassed or losing control and often include an aspect of wanting to avoid the discomfort of the anxiety and nerves that come along with performing.
A lot of us have this idea that we need to be AH-MAZING or ‘perfect’ before we perform (me included). It’s easy to think that if we’re not as good at presenting as Sheryl Sandburg at Facebook or as good at singing as Beyonce, then what’s the point?!
We get into comparison with others and we forget that we have our own voice, our own gifts and our own spin on things that makes us unique; and that these are valid too. If everyone in the world sung like Beyonce or gave presentations like Sheryl – wouldn’t the world be a boring place?!?
When I got offered the opportunity to sing a solo in front of an audience a few weeks ago, a thousand excuses flooded my mind.
‘Nah, I can’t do that! I’m not ready, it’ll make me nervous! I’m not good enough!’
However, no sooner had I told myself those things, I heard another part of me.
“*A-hem*” – it seemed to say to me.
‘Isn’t this exactly the sort of thing you should be saying yes to?’
I knew that although the experience would likely be a bit nerve wracking and uncomfortable – I wanted to overcome this fear of performing and improve my confidence around singing and I knew that the only was to do this was to experience the fear and get through it. I reminded myself of the advice I often give to people;
‘I don’t need to be Beyonce. I just need to be myself. That’s enough.’
One of the most important things I’ve learned in my life is that things like therapy, meditation and personal development exercises can take you so far but, taking action and ‘feeling the fear and doing it anyway’ is one of the best and most effective ways of building confidence and reducing anxiety.
When we’re experiencing performance anxiety the brain tricks us into thinking that we are in real danger. This likely goes waaay back to tribal days, when social ostracisation from the tribe could have genuinely been a life and death thing.
These days, the prospect of stumbling over a few words in a presentation or hitting a bum note as we sing Adele’s ‘Hello’ is hardly going to result in us getting kicked out of the tribe; but it still triggers that same fight or flight response in many of us.
When the fight or flight response gets triggered it’s caused by the part of the brain called the amygdala. This is sometimes called the ‘reptilian brain’ as it’s one of the oldest parts of our brain, evolution wise. It kicks in before our conscious, rational mind has had a chance to think. Almost all of the horrible sensations surrounding performance anxiety; fast beating heart, sweating, shaking, the intense desire to run away or clam up and become momentarily mute – come from adrenaline.
For a lot of people, this feeling is so unpleasant that it’s enough to make them avoid any situation where they might have to perform in front of others. The problem with this is that when we avoid doing the things that scare us, they will continue to scare us, and if there ever comes a time when we do indeed have to face our fear, the fear is likely to be greater still because we’ve avoided it for so long.
Of course this isn’t the only problem. We all want to live fulfilling and happy lives, to fulfill our potential and to use our gifts and strengths in the best way that we can. If fear is holding us back, we might experience that gnawing sense that we’re missing out on all that life has to offer.
The uncomfortable truth about performance anxiety is that putting ourselves into those anxiety-provoking situations, staying with the anxious feelings and getting through it, is the best way to teach our reptilian brains that the danger isn’t real and that we can handle the situation.
My performance? It went pretty well – I was a bit nervous and my legs shook as bit as I stood up, but I really enjoyed the experience and felt so proud of myself and confident afterwards. I’ve got some good ideas about what I can do better for the next time too.
The good news is that we can all take steps towards overcoming this type of anxiety.
You could always create a diva-esque stage persona a la ‘Sasha Fierce’, but if that’s not your style, here are some tips which may also help.
- Expect to experience some adrenaline, especially at the beginning of the performance. It’s normal when performing and even professionals experience nerves before they perform or speak. Stay with the anxious feeling and try to make peace with it if you can, without trying to change it or trying escape from the situation and you will teach yourself that the perceived ‘danger’ isn’t real at all and that you can handle it.
- Remind yourself that this is what you want – you want to overcome the fear and improve your performance and that you’ve chosen this experience.
- Breathe – Take deep belly-breaths that signal to your body and nervous system that it’s safe for you to relax.
- As much as possible try to focus on your performance and what you’re saying, rather than worrying about what other people are thinking. You’re not responsible for the thoughts of other people.
- Make sure you do plenty of practice beforehand and are well prepared so that you really know your stuff. This way you’re less likely to worry about forgetting what you’re going to say or perform, since it will come a lot more naturally for you. (I’m pretty sure my neighbors got sick of me singing the same song over and over. Sorry neighbors!)
- Remember to be kind to yourself, no matter how things went. Even if things didn’t go exactly to plan – you still have a great starting point from which to make a tonne of progress. Making mistakes is often a huge catalyst for improvement and can end up being a good thing because it teaches you so much.
I’d love to hear about any experiences you’ve had with performing or whether you’d like to perform one day and which tips you’ll use. Let us know in the comments!
If you’re looking for more incredible tools to help you to manage your own anxiety and increase your natural confidence – take a look at the online programme.