Can I really change how I feel when I perform?

How often do you feel stuck in a pattern of thinking that seems to hold you back, going round that same circle and ending up thinking the same thoughts and making the same mistakes? It can feel like it’s impossible to change. Clients come to me believing that this is just the way they are, that it’s in their very nature to make these same mistakes, that this pattern of thinking and behaving is in their DNA.

One of the things I talk about with my clients and my groups is Neuroplasticity. The ability of the brain to change and develop, and for us to develop new neural pathways, and let others fall away. It’s like a footpath through a field, it’s there because people use it. When they stop using it and start to walk a different route, the old one grows over and the new one wears into a path. The more we use the new pathway the easier it is to use, and the less we use the old pathway the more it grows over and becomes harder to use.

The science shows this isn’t true. Whilst you may be predisposed to behaving, thinking, and responding in certain ways, because of nature/nurture, it is possible to change this. In this blog I share with you simple ways you can achieve some neural pathways for yourself, ones that can help you perform with less overthinking and fewer nerves.

In the video I mention The Fearless Performer, if you are interested in finding out more, you can click the link.

p.s. A client shared this video with me, of neurons connecting and growing, showing the process in action.

Video of Neurogenesis

You may think it only happens when you are young (and a large proportion does) but this process goes on until the moment our brains die. You can be 104 and still develop new neural pathways.

Isn’t it amazing?

Blog Transcript

“So can you change how you feel when you perform? Well obviously I’m going to say “Yes” because that’s what I teach in the Fearless Performer Program and my various other programs, and one-to-one.

But what I want to talk to you today about is, on a more pragmatic basis, some of those principles that I teach. How they can change, and how you can change, how you think when you perform. If you think about it all our feelings when we perform are based on our beliefs, and our assumptions. For example if we think about two of the biggest assumptions I hear from my clients are, one, ‘I’m going to forget the words,’ and the other one is, ‘I’m going to let myself or the audience down.’

Now you can believe that these are based in fact, ‘Well I’m going to forget the words because I always forget the words’ and,  ‘I can never get that second verse right so I know for certain I’m going to get it wrong.’

The truth is you don’t know for certain, you may have very strong reasons to believe you’re going to forget the words, but you don’t know, and do you see how by using those words you change what is a belief into a fact. It’s the same with the other common belief, ‘I’m going to let myself or the audience down’. Again you may think, ‘Well I always do it wrong,’ or, ‘I always let them down’ or, ‘I never do my best so therefore I know I’m going to let them down,’ or, ‘I strongly believe I’m going to let it down let them down.’ Again, do you see how the language there turns it into a fact ,and how does that “fact” make you feel? How does the belief, ‘I’m going to forget the words,’ or ‘I’m going to let people down,’ make you feel? Then, when you think about how it makes you feel, on the basis of that feeling, how do you then act, how do you behave?

Often you’ll find that that “fact” that you’ve createdt makes you feel more fearful, more nervous, worried, bringing tension to your body and tension to your mind. Then this is where it can become a self-fulfilling prophecy, where you create the environment in which it’s much more likely that you will forget the words or you will let yourself down, to use your words not mine, talking to my clients out there!

So if we think about it, these beliefs at their essence are a neural pathway, and neurons that fire together wire together. What that phrase means, and it’s used by a lot of neurologists, is that the more you use neurons together, the more that they they form pathways, and you’re more likely to use those neurons. So they wire together. They become this pathway and part of that process is that as you use a neuron, you build up this sheath, a fatty sheath around it, called myelin. The more myelin there is around a neuron, the more effective that neuron is. Therefore the more likely it is your brain will use that neuron, and that neural pathway. So if we look at the analogy, it’s very like a real life pathway, the more people use a pathway through a field, the more worn down it becomes, the more… the easier it is to use that pathway. So the more people will use that pathway, as opposed to wiggling in a different a slightly different route.

Neural pathways are very like pathways through fields. What you are doing by having these thoughts that create these feelings, and then create these responses, and sometimes these are self-fulfilling prophecies, is reinforcing that neural pathway. It feels then like a habit, and it becomes a habit because it’s so much easier to walk down a pathway without thinking, than to forge a new pathway.

Let’s go back to that assumption, take the one ‘I’m going to forget my words.’ You might forget your words, it’s a credible assumption yet there’s also a possibility, and it might be an outside possibility, that you’ll remember your words and you’ll sing it faultlessly. How does the thought ‘I’m going to remember my words,’ make you feel? It’s still a credible assumption, it’s a possibility, so you don’t know yet whether you’re right or wrong, but how does it make you feel? Then if you think about how that makes you feel, if you feel that way, how do you then behave.

What I mostly find with my clients, is that they say they relax, there’s less tension, and their heads are clearer, they’re enjoying it more which I would say creates an environment, where it’s more likely that you will remember your words. As Henry Ford once famously said, ‘Whether you think you can, or you think you can’t, you’re probably right.’

So then if you think about that neural pathway, how do you build that neural pathway?

Let’s go back to that footpath analogy, if you consciously choose to walk in a different direction across the field because, maybe a shop has been built, or something has blocked the other route, or there’s a whole load of nasty bits that you have to get through at the end of this path, and you don’t want to go through that anymore. Maybe it’s that you don’t want to not enjoy your performance anymore. Say you realise that an enjoyable performance is over there, but you have to walk through some brambles to get there and some nettles. It’s not easy to go down that path to start off with, and thinking ‘I’m going to remember my words,’ might feel really uncomfortable to start off with, like ‘Well I’m just going to let myself down,  it’s being unrealistic to think that. I’m just being pragmatic and being realistic when I think I’ll let them down.’ Then remember how that thought makes you feel, and what impact that has on your performance.

So it’s worth battling through those nettles and those brambles to forge that new pathway, because the more times you do it, the more you will develop that neural pathway, the more myelin you will build around those neurons, and the easier it is to use that neural pathway. Just as it would be the footpath. The more you use it the easier it becomes to use. Then what happens to the other footpath when you stop using it? The other footpath grows over and becomes harder and harder to use, and the same when we stop using neurons. The Myelin depletes, and it becomes harder and harder to use that too. That’s the process of change.

So yes, you can change the way you think in the way you feel, and you can do that by consciously choosing different thoughts to think about your performance by looking at the two assumptions you can make, both of which might be credible. One might be more credible than the other, but both are possibly right. Which one makes you feel good? Which one makes you feel bad? Which one promotes a good performance?

Start to consciously think the thoughts that promote a good performance.

Thank you for listening, if you’d like to know more about how you can change the way you think and the way you feel about performing, you know in a wholehearted way, to really get to the bottom of what’s going on for you then take a look at my website, and take a look at the Fearless Performer Program to see if it might be for you.

I’m Hattie Voelcker from Find Your True Voice.”