What to do when things go wrong can be a struggle for many performers, and not just when it goes obviously wrong. It can be a struggle just when we think we are getting a bad reaction from the audience, or we have made a small mistake. In this video I look at a simple shift in perspective that can help hugely with this.
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Hi, I’m Hattie Voelcker from findyourtruevoice.co.uk and welcome to number three in my series of blogs on practical issues. Tips and tricks to help with the practicalities around performing.
Today is on how to cope when it goes wrong. This came up for a client of mine recently and he was talking about the presentation he’d done a number of years ago, where he suddenly felt his throat go dry and nerves getting the better of him. Panic was setting in. His hands were shaking and he found himself holding on to his notes and his lectern for dear life. So what’s the best thing to do in this scenario? He asked what should he have done with hindsight.
There is a simple shift to perspective that you can use to help you when things start to go wrong, and that’s what I’m going to cover.
We’ve all been there we’ve all been in the situation where we’ve forgotten our words, or we’re worried that we’re going to forget our words, and we feel like the tension is creeping in, or we notice somebody in the audience we really want to impress and suddenly it all starts to go wrong. We start to feel ourselves not doing the best we can, or even making mistakes. We feel like our control is starting to slip away and we might even start to panic. We desperately try and regain that control, to try and make sure that we that our audience judges us well, to try and control how our audience judges us. What’s going on in our heads then at that moment when we feel like things are starting to go wrong, when we feel like think we’re losing control?
For my client he suddenly felt really self-conscious, in the sense that he became really conscious of what he was doing or what he wasn’t doing, and
how he was going to be perceived. The fear of negative judgment kicked in and
he felt powerless to to control the situation, and he desperately wanted to get back in a position of control.
What had happened was his limbic system had kicked in. That is the part of the brain that’s the lizard brain, it’s the fight flight freeze part of our minds. The conscious mind at that point, when the limbic systems firing on all cylinders, is taking a back seat. It is disengaged.
There’s a hand theory of the mind which shows that, if the palm and the wrist are the brainstem, and the thumb is the limbic system, when we panic or feel shame then our prefrontal cortex (which is the fingers wrapped over the thumb and the palm) just flips up (lift the fingers up)and disengages. As performers, that can push us to have a drive to regain control. But is that drive wise in the circumstances? What happens when we try and take control is we start to cling on for dear life and we start to have that tension creeping in. Whatever sort of performer you are, tension does not help with your performance. If you’re a singer it massively affects your vocal technique, as for an actor, and your breath control goes, and also your brain goes to the wrong place. As I said shame can trigger that limbic system response too. We can then become preoccupied with how we’re being judged and how we can stop this judgment. How we can get back control, and try and control what the audience thinks of us. How we can stop making mistakes, and stop and hide the failures that we’ve had already. This reaction is knee-jerk. It’s not conscious and it’s not well reasoned and conducted by our executive function because our executive functions gone, it’s disappeared!
So how do we solve this? The answer is simple we re-engage our conscious mind so that we can make better decisions, and we re-engage the connection between our conscious mind and our body.
How do we do this? Well it’s certainly not to have our conscious mind take control, which is the temptation! When when things go wrong when we were performing so often the temptation is for our conscious mind to go, ‘Right how am I going to fix this. I’m going to do this, I’m going to do that, I’m going to do that,’ and that distracts us from our purpose and it creates tension in itself. The temptation to boss ourselves around is not the place we need to be. We can use the conscious mind instead to observe what’s going on, and help make our response to what’s going on a wise and proportionate response.
How do we do that? Well this is where I bring in the work of Dr. Dan Siegel, and he talks about naming it to tame it. This can take a millisecond, but can have a huge effect. If we can name what’s going on for us. In that moment it has two major impacts.
Neurologically our prefrontal cortex re-engages and can assess the situation and then it can release chemicals to calm our whole system down. So to calm the limbic system’s adrenal response it releases dopamine and that will help us feel calmer.
Psychologically it allows us to acknowledge what’s going on, and the reality of what is going on, in a proportional way. If we acknowledge what’s really going on, we have the capacity then to re-engage with our purpose. The limbic system can’t tell the difference between a mortalthreat and an embarrassing situation, so it responds with that fight flight freeze whatever the situation. Our prefrontal cortex can distinguish what the threat is, and if we re-engage our prefrontal cortex, we can have a proportional response. Therefore instead of
thinking I’ve got to run away, I’ve got to fight, hit out, get angry, or even I’ve just got to stop and freeze. None of which we want to happen in a performance! Instead of that response, our prefrontal cortex can help make a decision on the best way to move the performance forward, and the most effective way.
The reality is we all know the most effective way to move a performance forward, and that is to relax and let go of those mistakes. To do this we have to let go of that desire to take control, and just ride the wave. Keep focused on our purpose, as in the purpose of the performance. Why are we there and what do we want to give our audience? What do we want to achieve?
Hanging on to the mistake you’ve made doesn’t serve you,and it definitely doesn’t serve your audience. So the answer is to stop focusing on yourself and what you are doing wrong, re-engage with your purpose, and focus your conscious mind on your audience, and the result you want to achieve.
If you do that you will distract yourself from the tension caused by trying to take control, you will increase the ability for your body to relax, because the dopamine can be released, and you will serve your audience better. Your audience is not served when you are thinking about the mistakes you’re making, or the mistakes you’ve made, or the mistakes you think you are about to make. Your audience is served when you keep focused on your purpose – and in reality so are you.
I hope you’ve enjoyed this third of my blogs. Again, let me know if there’s anything in particular you would like me to cover.
I’m Hattie Voelcker, if you want to find out more about what I do then visit my website at findyourtruevoice.co.uk
Thanks very much.