Adrenaline in performance is the most natural thing. Without it, your performance would be flat, uninspiring and without that special spark. However, when that level of adrenaline is too high it can create anxiety, and become oppressive, restrictive and destructive to performance. One of the most powerful ways you can deal with performance anxiety is to re-evaluate your response to fear. In this article I am going to share 3 ways you can do this.
1. Don’t fight your fear
You have probably noticed that if you try to fight what you’re feeling, that feeling only gets stronger. That’s because all emotions are information. You already know on a conscious level that when you’re about to do a performance, you’re not about to die, (although it can feel that way!) so you know that your fear is not rational. So what is the information in your fear?
When we experience a feeling we don’t like and start to panic, we become really bad detectives. We look for all the reasons why we might be feeling that way. So if you were to ask yourself, ‘what’s the information in my fear?’ you are likely to come up with many different reasons such as ‘it means I’m going to play badly,’ or ‘it means I’m nervous’ or ‘it means I’m not prepared enough.’ However, if your fear is irrational, then a response to that fear only serves to validate your poor guesswork, and if all you do is recognise that the fear is irrational and therefore has no meaning, you will find that the fear gives up on you. Which leads me on to my next piece of advice…
2. Lean into your fear
If you experience panic or fear before a performance, let yourself experience that fear in its strongest and most uncomfortable form. Sit with the feeling whilst breathing deeply and slowly, consciously aware that the fear is not giving you any useful information. Observe it and understand that it is entirely neutral unless you choose to give it meaning. It can feel incredibly uncomfortable and scary, and you may need to do this again if the fear returns later, but take courage, and the feeling will dissipate.
There is a wonderful rule in neuroscience which backs up this method, called the 90-second rule. Research has shown that it takes 90 seconds for an emotion to take its course through the body in its chemical form. If the effects of the emotion are felt beyond that time, then that is a mark that you have taken hold of that emotion psychologically.
3. Attach a new label to your fear
The universal term for heightened adrenaline in performance is usually ‘nerves.’ But at what level does your adrenaline become nerves? Have you ever stopped to realise that the feeling of adrenaline which you experience in performance when you are nervous, is the same feeling you experience when a performance goes well? The level may be different but it’s the same chemical and the same physiological response. When is it nerves, and when is it excitement? You decide. Your experience of that adrenaline, whatever the level rests entirely in your perception of it. So give it another label which acknowledges the potential benefits of that adrenaline. Instead of ‘nerves,’ why not call it ‘focus,’ ‘excitement,’ ‘energy,’ ‘verve,’ or even ‘superpower.’ Get creative, and you can be surprised how your experience changes!