How to Master Performance Fears
One of the main jobs our brain has been tasked with is to keep us alive. That is why practically everyone was born with the ability to feel fear. Those who walk around this planet without being able to recognize danger aren’t going to be walking around it for very long.
The above is why it makes perfect biological sense that every sane person would automatically feel fear when being locked in a cage with a hungry tiger. The fear triggers the fight or flight response which creates physical changes that prepare you to save your life. Your brain controls all that, not your mind.
But your brain was not given the job of protecting your emotional self-image. Brains are physical. They can’t get insulted, nor do they fear rejection. It is the mind, the spirit, the person inside the body that does. The mind can affect the brain when it is upset, just as the brain can affect the mind and body when it is “upset”— which is when the brain senses pain or physical vulnerability.
And Then the Mind Tells the Brain
But, it is only the self, the person inside the body vehicle, who can be made to feel vulnerable by social situation created—self-image concerns. It is the mind that tells the brain, “We’ve got to get out of here” when social-self-image fears are triggered (i.e.: failure, rejection, embarrassment, humiliation).
Thus, depending upon how threatening the particular social situation is to the mind (person), it’s decision to escape may cause the brain to trigger the fight-or-flight response—which accounts for why and how social fears can lead to all kinds of uncomfortable, unwanted, even overwhelming, physical changes.
Fear > Dread > Avoidance > Missing Out
Public speaking, asking for a date, auditioning for a part, interviewing for a job, taking a test, among others, are all situations that have been known to trigger varying degrees of performance failure fear within physically fit, professionally capable, and otherwise emotionally secure, people.
The scale of the possible intensities of such fears runs from mild discomfort, to dread, to avoidance—and at times all the way to panic and difficulty breathing; depending on the person and the particular task at hand.
Fear when your life is actually threatened is always helpful as noted above; and especially so when it mobilizes you into right action at the right time. Fear when your life is not actually threatened is never helpful—unless it mobilizes you into right action, at the right time; and over time as well.
Overcoming Reactions to Fear
Just like it would be pointless to tell someone waking up alone in a cage with a hungry tiger not to fear—it is pointless to tell someone with a big fear of public speaking (or of asking for a date, etc.) to just “go out there and get over it.”
Once you have a strong fear-based reaction to being asked to do something (whether you’re asked to do it by yourself or by others), you have accepted the expectation that if you try it, something bad will happen (i.e.: rejection, failure, ridicule, etc.). If that wasn’t the case, you wouldn’t need to, or want to, avoid it.
Imagining the Worst
Most people who avoid the experiences they fear often imagine exactly what it is they fear happening from time to time (rejection for a date, not thinking of anything to say at a party, sputtering or freezing when making a speech in public). Others may not imagine those unfortunate outcomes, and thus may not consciously know exactly why they avoid, they just do.
Research confirms that the same parts of the brain that are activated when you imagine an experience are activated when you actually go through it. Thus, fear that grows into avoidance can be counteracted through giving a person a reason to expect, and therefore imagine, going through the experience(s) that they fear successfully.
An Organized Path to Conscious Mastery
The Keys Teachings suggest two methods to help you accomplish the above. The first one is to work a relevant Mastery Prayer List that specifically targets the fear(s) that you want to and need to overcome.
You work a Mastery Prayer list by asking God to disempower the reinforcement energy behind the fears that are on the list. Doing so is literally asking God to help you master your habitual fears by reprogramming your physical brain and your sub-conscious mind.
Each time you work a Mastery Prayer List, you are asking God to both take charge of you now and to prepare you to better handle all the situations and circumstances of your life in the future.
The second method, which the Keys Teachings calls Prepare and Practice, combines what most therapies refer to as Systematic Desensitization and Roleplay. It is designed to help you imagine more positive outcomes when thinking about situations that have been difficult for you in the past.
Since Actions Speak Louder than Words
Actions really do speak louder, and they program your brain and sub-conscious mind more strongly, than words. That’s why prayers alone are most often not enough to help you master your fears—while you’re still facing them in life.
Prayers move you one step forward. But, each time you allow fear to control your mood and behavior—you take two steps back. That’s why it’s harder to feel brave, when you don’t act brave—than to act brave, when you don’t feel brave.
The Wisdom of a Step by Step Approach
Systematic Desensitization is a step-by-step approach that helps you master your fears by consistently diminishing your expectation of suffering when going through the situations that trigger them.
If you’re afraid of public speaking, you arrange to speak publicly in a relatively safe to you situation—such as in front of your significant other; or in front of three of your most trusted friends—who all serve as your home-based audience.
You make the speech you’ve prepared in front of that small, but safe, audience. Then they support you with realistic, but kindly worded suggestions. You then implement and practice those positive changes in your next speech.
When you feel ready, you make your next speech in front of a slighter larger, and potentially a little less friendly, audience. You then implement the advice you get from them (or from helpful observers you placed there). Making those changes gives you even more reason to expect to do better next time; and so on.
Preparation + Practice = Improved Performance
Thus, after a few successful public speaking engagements, your competence and confidence will be increased, and your fear diminished—all because your string of successes gave you the ability to imagine success instead of failure next time.
The above methods can help you master almost all of your performance related fears, one by one, simply by increasing your expectation of performing better in the situations that have in the past only triggered fear and avoidance.
If you’re afraid of asking for a date, you can successfully use the above approach at home. Instead of writing a speech, you just write an “asking someone out on a date” scene; and then perform it with a trusted help-mate; get feedback, then apply the feedback, and then practice the new method, and so on.
Soon you will be ready to move on to actual potential dating partners; and will likely perform better each time you do—because systematic preparation and practice always improves performance, at least to some degree, over time.
Impersonality Makes Learning Easier
The above is why all sports prepare their rookies in minor leagues—where it’s safer for them and the players to take risks on poor performance. It’s why teams hire coaches, schedule practice, and play exhibition games that don’t count in the standings—all to better train and prepare their new players for the big time.
All the above is why the Keys Teachings so strongly emphasize that becoming impersonal is one of the most important qualities to develop for both spiritual and material world success. Oversensitivity and fear of being judged often leads to premature giving up; and the only failure in life is giving up (or not trying).
You Miss Every Shot You Never Take***
In summary, the Keys Teachings recommends preparing yourself for mastery with God Take Charge Prayers, Mastery Prayer List work, Receivership, and the rewriting of your scripts on how to approach difficult, challenging situations.
Once you’re armed with the right guidance, and have decided on the changes to make, the practice part should be continued until all of the replacement choices actually become your default attitudes and behaviors—the habits you go to even when you’re stressed.
Preparation and practice in daily life is the path to positive change. Combine it with Receivership directed choices and decisions—and it becomes the path to Impersonality, Conscious Mastery, and Karmic Balance in the physical, as well.
*** – Quote from Wayne Gretsky, Hall of Fame Hockey Star