Stage fright is one of the most common phobias or anxieties that exists. It’s believed to be rooted in our psyche from the stage in evolution where we lived in tribes. If we were rejected by our tribe we’d be ostracized and left on our own, usually to die. When we’re faced with large groups of people, it can literally trigger the fear of death on an unconscious level.
We obviously don’t live in these kinds of nomadic tribes today, but like phobias tend to be, this is not a rational fear. It’s an emotional/psychological one. As such, we can’t just think our way out of it. We need to ‘experience’ our way out of it.
This means changing the pictures we imagine in our mind and/or the message and tonality of our inner dialog and changing our physiological unconscious reaction to whatever stimuli triggers this phobic reaction in us.
I used to have a good deal of anxiety before every performance. My initial method of coping was to drink before I went on stage. Of course this isn’t really an acceptable solution. Falling into drum sets, driving drunk, etc. etc. – no good. But for many people, performance anxiety is so bad that it becomes a matter of drinking, taking drugs, or not getting on stage at all. Fortunately we have other tools we can use to overcome the problem.
What worked for me is a technique from Neuro Linguistic Programming, or NLP, called double dissociation.
NLP was created in the 60’s by a linguist and a computer programmer, John Grinder and Richard Bandler. They started out by searching far and wide for phobics who had overcome their phobias. They studied what specifically they did to overcome their phobias and broke it down to a formula that could be replicated by other people.
The phobia cure involves isolating a memory related to the fear that produces a physiological response and then ‘whitewashing’ it until the emotions and physiological response lose their charge.
The subject imagines watching a movie of the incident from their memory and plays it backwards and forwards in black and white and at different speeds and with clown music, etc. When the process is done it’s usually difficult or impossible for the subject to bring back the same anxiety that they had going in.
What they found was even more powerful, especially for deep-rooted fears was the double dissociation technique, where the subject imagines themselves watching themselves watching their memory in a movie theatre.
If you’d like to give this a go, I recommend Stuart MacCormack’s Phobia Programme, which you can download from iTunes here:
Also, here’s a video from Richard Bandler, one of the co-founders of NLP, demonstrating techniques to help a person overcome a destructive memory or visual image. You may have something similar that you play over in your mind that contributes to stage fright. There are a lot of interesting things that Bandler says that you may not pick up on at first, so it’s worth watching more than once (warning – some language is NSFW):
If you try any of these techniques please leave a comment to let us know how they work for you. Also, if you have your own strategy for overcoming stage fright, please let us know!