This is a series about conquering stage fright. First, we talked about the importance of knowing yourself. Then, we talked about the fear factor. Then we talked about creating positive experiences to help fight the panic. Last week, we looked at the importance of knowing what you’re doing. This week, we’ll examine how our general state of wellbeing (use of ourselves) affects our performance.
I am a big fan of snooker, and one of the highlights of my year is the Snooker World Championships – 17 days of non-stop snooker action. I think many snooker fans will agree that one of the great excitements of the past few years has been the anticipation of seeing how player Ronnie O’Sullivan is going to fare in the tournament.
Ronnie is generally acknowledged to be the most naturally gifted player to ever pick up a snooker cue. But he is also widely acknowledged to have not achieved as many tournament wins as his prodigious talent would have suggested he might. Critics suggest that O’Sullivan’s temperamental streak leads to a lack of confidence.*
When Ronnie O’Sullivan won his first World Championship in 2001, part of his strategy for maintaining his focus through the long matches was by working on his general fitness. He took up running, and watched his diet and his sleep patterns carefully. He found that taking care of himself more generally led to a change in attitude at the snooker table.**
Why your general use/wellbeing matters.
FM Alexander wouldn’t have been surprised that Ronnie’s snooker abilities improved when he took care of his general wellbeing. FM wrote:
“the success of any particular process … must depend, primarily, on the general condition of psycho-physical development and control present…”
And he goes on:
“By chance or good luck a man may make a good stroke without having attained to a good standard in the general use of himself, but he can never be reasonably certain of repeating it, and the experiences associated with this state of uncertainty do not make for the growth of confidence.”***
In other words, if we want to be good at playing flute, or singing, or speaking in public, we need to pay attention to what we do with our minds and bodies more generally. If we are generally predisposed, as Ronnie O’Sullivan seems to be, to being hypercritical of ourselves, then that tendency will be exacerbated in our specific activity. If we are generally inclined to keep our shoulder muscles tense, then I can confidently predict that we’ll have them extra-tight just before we make that big speech.
This means that we can’t just think of conquering our stage fright when we’re performing. It is a whole-life process of change.
Here are a couple of questions that might get you started on the journey to improving your general psycho-physical condition.
- What attitude do you have to life generally? Ae you a relaxed individual, or are you a little on the anxious side?
- Think about the areas of your body that are most tense before you perform. Take a mental check on them now. How relaxed (or not) are they ordinarily?
Today, how can you move beyond your usual state of being?
* See the Wikipedia entry on Ronnie for references.
** He talks about this at length in his autobiography, Ronnie: The Autobiography of Ronnie O’Sullivan (co-authored with Simon Hattenstone, Orion, 2004).
*** FM Alexander, Constructive Conscious Control of the Individual in the Irdeat Complete Edition, p.341.