What is the critical factor that separates the champion from the runner up? Both have the knowledge, the skills and talent. Both have been coached by the best in the business and in practice both have performed amazingly… however, on the night one puts on an amazing display, and the other falls flat on his face!
A large part of being successful depends on the ability to perform well under stress. Whether you are taking an examination, in a job interview, conducting a sales pitch to a potential client or competing in a sporting event, success all depends on how you handle yourself in the moment of what you are doing.
WHAT IS PERFORMANCE ANXIETY?
Performance anxiety or stage fright as it is sometimes called is based on fear. Fear of being judged, fear of embarrassing ourselves, fear of not being good enough, and so on and so forth. A lot of these fears stem from our early years when (either rightly or wrongly) we perceived ourselves as failing to come up to the mark. In our day to day life this button may not get pushed. However, put us in front of an audience and it could be quite a different story. Often this is at an unconscious level. We may have no idea why we suddenly experience some or all of the many symptoms of performance anxiety.
Giving a presentation, making a speech or any kind of public performance gives performance anxiety the opportunity to strike. Actors, musicians, athletes including boxers are all susceptible. In fact an audience, no matter how big or small, can trigger these phenomena.
A little bit of anxiety can in fact enhance our performance. This is due to adrenaline being released into our blood stream. Too much adrenaline can almost paralyse us, our mind goes blank, our limbs seem to belong to someone else, our heart rate and blood pressure shoots up. We begin to shake as our mouth dries up and our palms and armpits begin to sweat; we begin to feel nauseous as butterflies swoop and dive bomb in our abdominal area. Then of course there is the internal dialogue going on. We tell ourselves that we aren’t good enough, we’re bound to ‘stuff up’ and that everyone will either be laughing at us or judging us negatively.
We choose to believe what our inner critic is telling us.
There is growing understanding that emotions, either negative or positive, are stored in the cells of our body. This is called cellular memory. The fight or flight response is an ancient mechanism designed to keep us safe from predators. Our body is designed to either run or fight. It happens automatically when we are faced with a dangerous situation. Our body responds in the same way as it has for thousands of years. These days our predator may not be a sabre toothed tiger but an audience.
Performance anxiety affects you on a mental, emotional and physical level and is the reason why you falter under pressure! The interconnection between our physical, mental and emotional states is complex. Imagine you are about to perform, you have a negative thought, your inner critic kicks in, this triggers an unwanted emotional response. Before you know it the fight or flight response has been elicited and your performance suffers. In many cases this can have a crippling effect and we never achieve our full performance potential.
This doesn’t have to happen to you!
WHAT CAUSES PERFORMANCE ANXIETY?
• Fear of failure
• Fear of embarrassment
• Fear of being judged
• Fear of letting others down
• Fear of not being good enough
• Remembering past failures either real or imagined
• Negative self talk
• Inability to focus
What are the symptoms?
• Adrenaline surges through the body
• Muscles tense
• Mouth dries up
• Palms and armpits sweat
• Pulse rate goes up
• Heart rate goes up
• Breathing becomes shallow
• Thought processes become muddled
• Inability to focus
Most of these symptoms are due to the Fight or Flight Response.
A certain amount of adrenaline can enhance performance, but too much causes hyper alertness which causes the above mentioned symptoms.
WHAT CAN YOU DO TO STAY CALM AND FOCUSSED?
• Thorough grounding in technique
• Thorough preparation
• Positive mental attitude
• Motivation to perform in public
• Develop the ability to concentrate under pressure
• Develop the ability to stay relaxed and calm under pressure
• Develop confidence in your ability
• Develop the ability to express your enthusiasm