This is a series about conquering stage fright. First, we talked about the importance of knowing yourself. Last week, we talked about the fear factor. This week, we’re talking about creating positive experiences to help fight the panic.
Last week I talked a little about the fear symptoms we experience when we’re about to perform. I explained that many of the symptoms that we experience are the result of hormonal ‘fight or flight’ response – what FM Alexander described in 1923 as ‘fear reflexes’.*
Right on cue, after I posted my article, a friend of mine posted a link on Facebook to an article in Scientific American, entitled ‘This is Your Brain in Meltdown.’ The authors are scientists who have been researching the way even small amounts of stress can cause us to jettison the logic-based functions of our pre-frontal cortex (home of our executive centre), and fall back upon the primitive reactions of our amygdala to take over. The amygdala is responsible for emotional responses, and can cause us to experience mental paralysis and logical ‘meltdown’.
I bet many of us have experienced this kind of mental paralysis. I can remember a music performance where I was so paralysed that I couldn’t remember not just what the first note was, but also what fingering I should use to play it!
So how do the scientists recommend we prevent our brains jettisoning our reasoning and going primitive? Interestingly, current research seems to be confirming FM Alexander’s principle of building a ‘staircase’ of satisfactory experiences to build confidence. The scientists write:
“Animal research suggests that the sense of psychological control that becomes second nature to a soldier or emergency medical technician remains the deciding factor in whether we fall apart during stress… The routines of the drill sergeant are mirrored by animal studies that show that juveniles grow up to be more capable in handling stress if they have had multiple, successful experiences confronting mild stress in their youth.”
Steps to success!
If you have a big performance or presentation coming up, here is a plan to help you prepare.
- Prepare your speech/performance thoroughly. The better you know it, the less you will need to work your pre-frontal cortex to remember the words or music.
- Do trial performances. Find a sympathetic audience or three. Or six. My recorder quartet like to trial new music at our local music festival, where the audience is small but appreciative. If you’re doing public speaking, find a local Toastmasters group (or similar) where the members are friendly and knowledgeable.
- Have a goal for your performance. Small goals help you to keep focussed. When I played a recorder solo recently, my goal was not to win the prize at the festival. My goal was to play a very difficult piece of music, to allow for mistakes to happen, and to keep going. And I did.
Do you freeze pre-performance? Do you become irritable? Have you tried having goals and constructing a stairway to success? Tell me about it in the comments!
* FM Alexander, Constructive Conscous Control of the Individual in the Irdeat Complete Edition, p.338.
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