You’re on the start line waiting for the starting pistol, or you’re about to make your speech, sing your song, perform on stage, walk down the aisle, take an exam, take a penalty, impress at your job interview or speak at the team meeting, and suddenly, all of your talents and skills seem to disappear.
You freeze, unable to create a coherent sentence in your mind. Your body feels weird and you want to run for the door. It feels as though everyone is watching you and judging you and waiting for you to do your thing and your mind goes completely blank.
You know you can do this but right now, all you can feel is panic rising and your thoughts are swooshing round your head so quickly that you can’t catch them.
You’ve got stage fright, in its debilitating, confusing and panic-inducing glory. To give it its proper name, you have performance anxiety.
You’re not alone, it is estimated that 40% of adults experience performance anxiety on a regular basis. And you’re in good company too, those affected include actors, musicians, sports stars and celebrities.
I worked with a national level rugby player who was so anxious about his performance on the pitch, that he would vomit several times in the hours before every single game. I’ve worked with stage performers who paced around backstage for hours before each show, even though they would appear on stage wearing an enormous character costume and be unrecognisable as themselves to the children in the audience.
Some level of nerves or anticipation before a performance is great. It keeps you on your toes and can help you to raise your game. When it tips over though, it can spell disaster. All of the training, preparation and practice is for nothing if you can’t bring your best game when it matters.
Being able to manage your emotions so that you can perform optimally is a key part of your skillset when performing is part of your job or your sport. It can be the difference between winning and losing, making the sale or losing the contract.
When I was a sports performer, I had a strange relationship with performance anxiety. I remember being in a race that I didn’t believe that I had any chance of winning. My coach didn’t think I had much chance either, so my brief was to go and just enjoy the race. ‘Soak it all up’ he told me ‘enjoy every minute’. It was a beautiful sunny day and the course was fantastic. I was racing at national level and it was a whole new world from local races – there was an audience in the arena and someone commentating on the race. There were proper course marshals and safety teams on the route and course markers that were sponsored by big brands. I lined up on the start line with my heart racing. The pistol went and the other competitors left me in the dust as they sped off. I didn’t care – I was racing in a national series race! I rode the whole course feeling like a champion with a huge grin on my face. I raced my heart out, grinning and pedalling and pushing myself as hard as I could but with such a feeling of fun and enjoyment that I did enjoy every moment. And I caught up to some of the other riders in my event and I overtook them. I was amazed – I think they were shocked too. I remember very vividly riding down a hill through the middle of a meadow going so fast I thought that my bike might slip out from under me at any second and whooping with pleasure at the thrill of it all.
I can’t remember where I placed. I know that I wasn’t last but that I didn’t get on the podium. It doesn’t matter. That was the race of my life.
That feeling of abject pleasure, when your skills align with the challenge and you perform at your absolute peak, that is what is possible for you when you overcome your performance anxiety.
It doesn’t matter whether you are making a speech, singing a song, performing in your sport or being interviewed. Being able to perform without anxiety makes it so much easier. It enables you to shine, to feel fearless and play all-in. It enables you to be exceptional.
There are 8 ingredients for a mindset that enables you to overcome performance anxiety and perform at your best. As a sports scientist I spent years working to optimise people’s performance. I’ve interviewed successful business people and sports stars and distilled what they know into a simple structure. I’ve researched and tested some of the most effective methods to reduce anxiety, increase confidence, self-belief and all of the other components of the programme. I’ve worked with clients one to one to develop the programme, and now I’ve created the Challenge-Ready mindset mastery programme so that you can learn how to master them all and be able to perform at your best at will.
Are you ready to be exceptional?
I’m hosting a free webinar on Friday 4th September where I will share the 8 components of the mindset, show you what happens when performance anxiety happens and why it isn’t all in your head, and show you a simple way to check what’s most important to you about your own performance. If you’d like to come, just register here.
Exceptional performance isn’t just for a chosen few, it’s available to everyone. All you need to do is understand how to manage your anxiety, and increase all of the parts of your mindset that anxiety tries to take from you. It’s simple. That doesn’t mean that it’s easy, but I’ve taught other people to do it, so I know that I can teach you.