Performance Anxiety: Understanding the Root of the Problem – Part One | richard s. grossman


Who out there hasn’t suffered from a bad case of performance anxiety? I’m not talking about that which goes on between the sheets in the privacy of one’s own home. I’m referring to the shaky, dry mouth, clammy-to-sweaty, nauseating, pit-in-the belly, potentially vasovagal, sometimes immobilizing and always highly uncomfortable state of being that is induced whenever one has to perform in front of other people.

Stage fright, fear of public speaking, Glossophobia—whatever you choose to call it; it’s a very real problem. Research shows that fear of public speaking is the number one  common phobia on the planet. We fear performing in front of an audience more than we fear dying. Three out of every four of us suffers from performance anxiety.

So what is the root of this problem? Are we just so inherently flawed that we can never hope to overcome it? Though we may be inherently flawed as a species—I prefer to think we are perfectly imperfect—there is, indeed, hope of overcoming performance anxiety. Understanding the root cause (not just the physical symptoms) is the first order of business.

Each of us possesses a component of our psyche that acts as a constant companion. For sake of discussion, we’ll call it the “Voice Inside Your Head” or VIYH, for short. Chances are, as you’re reading this right now your thinking, “What’s he talking about? Is he suggesting I’m hearing voices—that I’m crazy?” Well, I’m not about to pass judgement on your sanity, but that voice asking the questions is the voice to which I’m referring.

The VIYH is the most demanding and attention-craving entity with which we ever have to deal—there’s not even a close second. It shares our birthday and develops inextricably with us as a result of the accumulative programming and conditioning we endure over the course of our lives. It is the palette with which the canvas of our belief system is painted. Though the VIYH is always with us, most of us have never taken the time to get to know it.  It’s masterful at keeping us enmeshed with it, making it difficult to see through objective eyes. Difficult, but not impossible. The good news is, we are fully capable of stepping back and observing our VIYH. In order to understand why we are so phobic about performing in public, it’s essential that we do just that—step back and observe.

As we become the observer, we develop the ability to distinguish the VIYH from ourselves. The more practiced we are at being aware of the VIYH talking—whether its voice is loud or soft, its message positive or negative, the more intuitive we become in effectively quieting that voice. Quieting that voice leads to a calm mind, and… ladies and gentlemen (cue drum roll); a calm mind is the secret to overcoming performance anxiety.

In contrast, traditional thinking tells us that performance anxiety is actually a positive, useful tool and critical to optimizing one’s performance—that anxiety can be controlled by utilizing techniques such as deep breathing, positive self-talk and even visualizing the nervous energy leaving the body via the extremities. While these techniques may be helpful for some in certain instances, the question to ask yourself is, What would it look and feel like to eliminate the anxiety altogether? That is to ask, What does a calm mind look and feel like, and how does one get there?

That question, combined with a personal passion for helping artists of all stripes develop a deeper connection with their natural gifts is the inspiration and basis for the launching of Training Intuitive Performers or TIP. TIP is a collaborative effort between yours truly and Cindi Claypatch. It’s an experiential learning course specifically designed for arts educators, stage performers and those who collaborate with them (the technical and artistic folks behind the scenes). It’s based on the Three Principles of Health Realization. This is the stuff, folks, that changes lives—from the inside out.

Part two of this series offers a closer look at some of the techniques one can utilize to achieve a calm mind and eliminate performance anxiety. Stay tuned.

Until next time… Get it real and Keep it real.