For days you’ve been experiencing all the symptoms: waking up too early thinking about the show, not being able to fall asleep because you’re thinking about the show, panicking about details, being unable to decide between this pair of pants and that pair of pants, having trouble focusing at work, getting on the wrong subway and staying on it far longer than you ever would without realizing, arriving late to your destination, arriving days early or days late to appointments – oh, it’s on Tuesday? I thought it was on Wednesday!, staring at that circled show date looming on the calendar and realizing that time really is relative-it’s constantly either moving too slowly or too quickly. Nothing feels normal.
You are forgetting parts of your songs you never forgot before, you are second guessing your song choices, obsessing over set lists, lamenting that you didn’t think of doing this or that before, wondering if you should or you shouldn’t throw in this one last tune even though you didn’t really practice it, and listening to rehearsal recordings and feeling discouraged and perpetually and terrifyingly out of tune.
You feel sensitive and are having difficulty relaxing and breathing normally, digestive issues have-let’s just say- taken over. You’re becoming more and more superstitious and fearful that any moment you spend NOT practicing or planning for the show or anything you gloss over now, you will kick yourself about later after you messed up it up on stage. I better do a run-through today exactly like I did yesterday or who knows what will happen. Where’s my lucky bracelet???
Your worry and fear and terror take hold stronger and stronger as it dawns on you and really sinks in just how vulnerable and visible you are making yourself. What if people think I’m full of myself for doing this show? What if they think-you’ve been working toward this for HOW long and this is the best you could do?
Your whole being is anxious and nervous. You question why on earth you’re even doing this to yourself. You could’ve just NOT planned to do this show and continued on your merry way with no stress at all! What were you thinking?! Wait, yeah, maybe you could just NOT do it at all. No one can MAKE you. You start imagining elaborate lies you could tell about why you didn’t make it to the show or had to cancel: food poisoning, family emergency that you had to leave town because of, or wait, how about a good Samaritan lie? Yeah, I was on my way to the show and I saw this woman get hit by a car and I had to stay with her until the ambulance arrived and it took forever and then I had to go with her to the hospital and translate for her, etc….
Then you snap out of it and realize that you aren’t going to cancel or not show up. You are going to do the show and you are SO nervous.
The above is an typical description of the cycle of fear most performing artists go through before a show-especially if they don’t perform often and it’s not a regular part of their lives. It is also how I often felt until I made one simple decision that shifted everything for me and will shift everything for you too. Replace “I’m nervous” with “I’m excited”.
Say those two sentences out loud. “I’m nervous.”. “I’m excited”. See if you notice different energy in your body when you say them. When I say, “I’m nervous” it feels like anxiety, fear, stress and worry. I feel like I can’t measure up, I’m not strong enough, I can’t do it, it’s bigger than me, I want to quit. But when I say, “I’m excited”, I feel differently. I feel joy, anticipation, longing, love and happiness and I actually smile! When I say, “I’m excited” I remember and reconnect with how much I love to sing and perform and how grateful and happy I am to have the opportunity. I feel psyched!!
I can already hear you cry, but I AM nervous, too! Yes, I know that and it’s true you are. It’s normal to be nervous and it’s normal to go through this process that I described above – to a reasonable degree, of course! But it is also true that you are excited. In fact you are both. Just like how they say that in Chinese, the word for fear is the same as the word for opportunity. Your nervousness and excitement are just two sides of the same coin. Nervousness and excitement go together like fear and opportunity do. So it becomes our choice where we want to focus our energy, on the nerves or on the excitement.
Words matter. They have tremendous power to build up or to tear down. Once you know that, you can consciously choose to stop using words that tear down your confidence and self-esteem and replace them with empowering words that build you up and create positive vibrations, inner-peace and happiness and ultimately help you shine your brightest on stage. Try it, and let me know how it goes, ok?