I still remember the sound of the crowd the first time I performed in front of 10,000 people. The roar of the crowd was so loud that I couldn’t even hear myself and it felt like my heart was going to explode out of my chest. But once I got on stage and started performing it wasn’t so bad until I forgot my lyrics!
Luckily, I just started freestylin’ lyrics so it wasn’t a total loss.
Why am I telling you all this? Because if you’re having anxiety performing in front of a crowd or during a music video or even just approaching someone important regarding your music then I’ve got some paradigm shifting advice for you.
All Anxiety Comes From Feeling Less Than The Situation
The first thing we have to understand is that anytime you’re feeling anxious it’s regarding a future event and you are feeling unsure of how you will perform. So you’ll notice that even a second before you go on stage, you can feel intense anxiety and it usually lessens as soon as you say your first word or play the first note on your instrument.
The problem is the chemical reactions within your body have already started long before this and they’ve been telling your brain to run, hide and be quiet. This is why you can get a lump in your throat or “cotton mouth” right before you give a speech or perform your song, and it’s because your body feels like a lion is chasing it, so it’s literally trying to shut you up.
I call this chemical reaction: the spiral. The spiral is basically when one negative thought leads to another negative thought and then to another negative thought and then another one and so on and so forth.
For example, a few weeks ago, I was playing in a basketball game in a rec league and leading up to the game I had intense anxiety.
Now the funny thing was this game wasn’t an important game like a playoff game nor were we playing a tough team. I even became intensely aware of the anxiety and tried to mediate it out.
But meditation did not help because it was already too late, the chemical reactions had already taken hold, in other words, I was already deep down the spiral.
Even though I had nothing to be scared of, my body was telling me to be scared and it is difficult to fight what the body is feeling (just remember back to your first teenage crush!).
I was spiraling.
So what did I do? Nothing, because there’s nothing I can do. Once the chemical reactions take place, you just have to ride it out until you fall asleep and it’ll be gone when you wake up.
But that’s really not helpful to us because we need to perform anxiety free right now. In fact, we don’t want to be anxious again. We want to completely get to the root cause of anxiety.
So what do we do to stop feeling anxious to begin with? Here are 2 key insights that will blow your mind.
1. Remember Who You Really Are
Even though we have thousands of thoughts a day, many of us make the mistake of believing we are our thoughts.
This mis-identification with the mind is the basis of many Eastern philosophies, but we don’t need to become religious to see that we are not our thoughts because most of the time we have no control over our thoughts.
You would think if we identify with something then we could control right? But we can’t control what our mind thinks.
Try this: Count down from 3 and become aware of the first thought that comes to mind.
“McDonalds?” First of all I’m vegan so I don’t even eat at McDonalds, but my first thought after doing that was McDonalds! Maybe because it’s close to lunch time as I write this, but let me know the comments what your first thought was.
So now that we know we’re not our thoughts, the first thing to become aware of is, you are not your thoughts, instead you are the awareness of your thoughts.
Let’s let that sink in for a little bit.
I am not McDonald’s, I’m just the thing that’s aware of having a thought of McDonald’s. It’s like when you’re angry, you’re not angry, you’re just feeling angry. You are the thing that’s feeling angry and that “thing” is what we call “awareness”.
So when you have one negative thought which is also completely random, don’t let it turn into two negative thoughts because then it will exponentially grow and it will take you down it’s spiral.
So the trick is as soon as that first negative thought hits, do something to bring you back to your awareness.
Things like meditation and focusing on your breathing help, but I’ve found an even better way, and it comes from motivational speaker Mel Robbins.
It’s something that’s so easy and so silly but it actually works and it’s basically to high five yourself in the mirror every day or whenever you need it.
In fact, let’s go high five ourselves in the mirror right now.
You didn’t do it. Go and take 10 seconds right now to high five yourself.
I just did it and it feels amazing and I find that there’s this tingly sensation that occurs, it feels like I can overcome any challenge.
By the way you can check out Mel’s book High 5 Habits where she goes into the whole science of why it works, if you’re interested.
I believe this works because it is a simple way of reminding me, who I am.
So who am I? I am the same thing as who you really are.
We are all just awareness and that means we are not our results.
So our self-worth does not come from how well we do in a performance or from how many fans we have or from how much money we have or from how many material possessions we have.
When we realize who we really are, there’s no need to feel less than any situation or person.
So You Don’t Want Me to Practice More?
No you don’t need to practice anymore. I do realize the common advice to stage freight is to practice more. But if you’re performing for a crowd, there’s a good chance you already know how to play your instrument or can sing and can at least make up the words if you forget them.
What you really need to do is understand is the difference between your true self and not your conditioned self. Your conditioned self is exactly what it sounds like, it’s the mental character that developed based on your experiences from a baby until now.
So having more experiences such as practicing or even performing more will not take away your anxiety because anxiety is a by-product of the conditioned self. In fact, notice how more nervous you get, the more you practice, especially on the day of the show.
So no amount of practicing will help as it is your conditioned self that feels inadequate (and will always feel inadequate) as a coping mechanism to something that probably happened in childhood.
For instance, say the first time you ever voiced your opinion and you were met with any kind of negativity such as people laughing at you or your parents teasing you, your conditioned self may have taken that as a sign that you should not put yourself out there.
As a result, over many years and years of reinforcing this coping mechanism, you now find yourself getting anxious every time you’re performing.
2. Stop Time Travelling
Another way to realize you are starting to spiral is when you realize you’re not in the present moment and are getting anxious for a future event such as a performance.
So in this regard, you can use “mental time” as an alarm that you’re mind is not here but becoming anxious for something that hasn’t happened yet.
The trick really is to never use the mind’s time travelling mechanism to go back in time or even forward in time. The trick is to be grounded in the present moment and you’ll find you get out of your head and focused on the task at hand much more naturally.
You’ll also find that you perform much better when you approach things this way. For example, in sports, it is called getting “in the zone”, because everything seems to slow down and you’re able to gracefully execute all these complex physical movements in real time.
It’s hard to get into the zone, if you’re worried about losing the game or dwelling on a missed shot.
We musicians get into the zone, anytime we’re making music and we completely lose track of time, because we are having so much fun and it’s so comfortable for us. That is the place we want to be in when performing in front of others.
We want to have fun and we can only do that by staying present.