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Do You Suffer from Performance Anxiety?

By Charlie Badenhop

When you're performing at a level that's disappointing, don't you wind up feeling you need to make an important change in your thinking that you don't know how to orchestrate?

Recently I had a client with a fear of public speaking come to me for a phone coaching session. I relate this story to you with his permission.

"Jim's" job requires him to give talks at various venues for publicity purposes. As a marketing executive Jim was highly successful. As a public speaker he was (in his own words) "a failure." He had already been to see a therapist and a voice coach to delve into "why this problem existed," and said such explorations had actually worsened his performance. Instead of "Why" I suggested we explore "How." Here's what transpired...

I asked Jim if he'd be willing to go through the first few paragraphs of a prepared speech that he'd given in the past. With a good deal of trepidation he agreed to do so. After he talked for about thirty seconds, he began to falter and I asked him to stop and tell me what he noticed in his body while talking. He said his mouth immediately went dry. So much so that he had trouble swallowing as he talked.

I asked him to bravely try again, but this time I wanted him to talk without looking at his notes, while instead giving all of his attention to the moisture content of his mouth. I explained that in order to do so, he would need to give up being concerned about the quality of his performance. This time Jim spoke for about a minute before faltering. I gently stopped him again and asked what he had noticed. He said his mouth was not nearly as dry as before, but he noticed he was blinking his eyes a great deal and still felt tense.

"Good to know you noticed some changes," I said. "This means you are learning."

For the next round I asked Jim to pay attention to the moisture content of his mouth, while also passively noticing his eyes. The results were pleasingly profound. This time after talking for about a minute he appeared to get into a flow, and his enjoyment and confidence became evident. After about three minutes I asked him to stop and again report on what he noticed. He related in an excited voice, that his mouth felt fine, his eyes blinked much less, and that at some point he spontaneously adjusted his posture to be more upright. He said, "When my posture changed 'on its own' I felt myself 'click into gear'. My goodness, how can doing something so simple lead to such a major change in my performance?!"

I related the following to him: "Usually, each time you unsuccessfully try to remedy a situation, your 'problem' seems to become larger. The larger you perceive your problem to be, the more energy you expend trying to 'fix it'. Instead of simply focusing on your task, you wind up focusing on what isn't working. Your thinking and judgments get in the way of your performance, because the solution you're searching for gets drowned out by your internal dialogue!"

A month later Jim called to touch base. He told me he had given four talks and that the results were highly gratifying. Jim pleasantly surprised himself and so can you:

  • Choose a task you don't feel competent at.
  • Notice how your body feels as you perform the task, without attempting to correct your performance.
  • Stay absorbed in non-judgmental awareness, and your body will correct itself, without any critique from "you."

Sound simple? It is. The more you learn to simplify the task at hand, the more you'll notice just how competent you truly are!


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