Written by Douglas Taurel
Do you get nervous when a big audition or performance comes up? Does the feeling of your heart pounding, breathing faster and breaking out into a sweat freak you out? Performing under pressure is a goal of every performer and a better understanding of the psychology of our brain and how it works can help you thrive under pressure.
Here are 7 tips:
- Interpret positively. When your heart is racing and palms are sweaty, have the internal monologue “I am amped up for this moment rather than I am freaking out, this is how my body meet the challenges it faces.” A recent Harvard study noticed that for participants who viewed and labeled their moments of stress as energizing and helpful, their blood vessels stayed opened and relaxed, the exact same body profile as during moments of joy and courage.
- Practicing under mild pressure and In front of people. Even practicing under mild levels of stress can prevent you from choking when high levels of stress come around. Find ways to create small levels of stress like performing in front of a video camera or for a friend who purposely tries to distract you slightly. As an example, Tiger Wood’s dad would roll balls across Tiger’s line of sight and jingle change in his pocket.
- Shut negative monologues down. Don’t think negatively about yourself. Internal monologue of worries is one of the biggest contributing factors to choking under pressure. Dr. Sian Beilock, author of “The Science of Choking” says – “Focusing on the negative or on what you might lose if you don’t succeed is one of the worst things an athlete or performer can do.” Excessive negative self talk really ruts your performance.
- You have to breath. Breathing helps the brain perform under pressure since lack of oxygen in the brain can cause even the most skilled professionals to perform poorly. Focus on your breathing a few moments before you start or as you sit in the waiting room. Take deep exhales and keep your breathing slow and relaxed.
- Write your worries down on paper. Writing your worries down on paper about a performance or big event will help alleviate your working memory from being all used up during stress so that you can have more working memory for the performance. Studies have shown in math tests that if you write your worries down for 10 minutes, you can improve performance by 15%. Putting your feelings into words changes how the brain deals with stressful information.
- Meditate. There is neuroscience research showing that 5 minutes a day of meditation changes how the brain is wired to support performance. It helps our brains in those important situations to let go of the negative thoughts and focus on the positive, which we know is really important for performing our best.
- Make a fist with your left hand. Journal of Experimental Psychology found that athletes performed noticeably better in high pressure situations when they made a fist with their left hand. Why? Getting nervous comes from the left side of the brain and mechanical actions come from the right side. So by making a fist with your left fist, you activate your muscle memory (right side of the brain) and stop the freaking out (left side of the brain).
An accomplished actor and producer, Douglas Taurel has starred in television roles on Nurse Jackie, Damages, NYC 22, The Americans and Person of Interest. He is active in the independent film scene, where he currently has lead roles in two independent films that will soon be screened in film festivals across the country, “Waystation to the Stars” and “La Croix Rising.”
Follow him on Twitter: @DouglasTaurel