This Blog Post deals with Understanding Performance Nerves. It will cover three topics:
Why confronting Performance Arousal is important.
What causes Performance Arousal.
A mind-set to deal with Performance Arousal.
Why confronting Performance Arousal is important
We all experience anxiety around Performance to some degree. This Blog Post will present a solution for managing that anxiety. The performative nature of the workplace means that developing coping mechanisms is important. Educational Institutions advocate STEM subjects, further up the Educational hierarchy. STEM subjects are Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths. This is admirable as Education in the STEM subjects tends to lead to higher paid careers, although a rounded Education should focus on the STEAM subjects: that is Science, Technology, Engineering, the Arts and Maths. The Arts are performative and develop coping mechanisms for presenting Research.
What causes Performance Arousal
The term Performance Arousal is used in this Blog, rather than Nervousness. Performance Arousal is a brain stem activity which has developed to protect us. Like blood-flood and breathing, we don’t want to have to actively control its function. What happens if we forget to flow our blood? Thankfully, nothing: our brain stem takes care of us. Our brain stem also takes care of Performance Arousal. We are woken up to perform by hormonal activity such as a burst of Adrenalin. This is important in such situations as a wild animal confronting us in the forest, troops attacking the Castle or (perhaps the scariest of all) being asked a difficult question.
I ask my Student if they think I am a nervous Teacher and they say no. Nervousness carries with it a negative connotation. This is true. I am not a nervous Teacher. I do become severely affected by Performance Arousal as a Performance approaches. Thankfully. The term Performance Arousal comprises of two words a) Performance – the necessity to confront ones’ fears in order to defend something, be it a Castle, or Research: and b) Arousal – to wake up. Hence, we are woken up in order to defend our stand point.
Image result for defend the castle
Perhaps this should read, “Mind Craft: Defend our Castle”
Developing Performance Skills is crucial in an isolated society.
A Story to illustrate Performance Arousal
The day of battle has been approach and now it has finally come. The Monarch stands on the battlements amid their Army. Surveying the landscape, they see the approaching enemy. Between the Castle and the enemy there is a flat plane, a wide River and a thick Forest. The Monarch exclaims, “I’m off to bed!” The need for defense is so far off that there is no need for concern. As the enemy approaches the Commander raises the alarm, “Arouse the Monarch!” and the Monarch is woken. They busy themselves preparing the Troops. You are approached and the question is asked, “Would you like extra Troops? Would that help?” These Troops will need to be taken from somewhere else, but they will return to their post later.
The day is won through Troops being correctly deployed. This is how Performance Arousal works.
Blood-flow is directed away from the Stomach – this feels like Butterflies – in order to support the Brain. It will return later. As the Brain-stem controls where blood-flow is deployed -you may recognise some of these symptoms – hands become cold, our neck becomes warmth, we think frantically or maybe need the Loo more than we otherwise might. This will come to an end as the danger passes and the “Troops” return to their Posts – figuratively.
A Mind-set to deal with Performance Arousal
Performance is about sharing.
A Student verbalised something which has been bothering me on a larger scale: they said, “You must be quite a show off to go on stage. Do you want people to look at you?” This doesn’t sit right with me and it has taken some introspection to figure out why. The answer is that I Perform to share my Research. Sharing inspires others.
It began to crystalise for me when I was playing Piano for a Dance for Parkinson’s Class. The Class is a Dance Class for those with Parkinson’s Disease. It encourages movement and uses Music to sooth, comfort and enable. I sensitively alter the speed and strength of what I play, to facilitate the development of those in the Class. Am I Performing? The Class Leader said, “Thank you for the Music”. There was an awkward moment of applause and bowing. Was I Performing?
The truth is that I was Performing, but Performing in the true sense of the word. I was the vessel for the Musical Experience. Without my input, the Music would not have happened. I am not the focus. The Music is the focus. When people come to Dinner, the designated Driver cannot drink alcohol. There is a Fruit Punch which my wife makes: it is delicious. We hand a glass of Punch to the Designated Driver and they comment, “Delicious, thank you”. They do not comment on the Glass in which the Punch is served. That is just the vessel. The vessel is necessary, to provide the sensory experience of Fruit Punch, but it is not the focus. This is the same thing with Performance.
Musically speaking, I might develop a approach to Tone, or Improvisational Technique. I might uncover an inspiring piece of Music. By sharing these discoveries, the Audience is inspired to include them in their own Musical Practises. I am the vessel and not the focus. This takes some of the pressure off me and reduces Performance Arousal. The same may be said in any field. When the Performer realises that the Research is the focus – and that the Audience are thankful for what is being shared – the anxiety is taken out of Performance.
The Audience will still say, “Thank you for the Performance”. That cannot be changed. By altering the Mind-Set of hearing, “Thank you for you being the focus”, to, “Sharing the Research has inspired me”, frees the Performer to enjoy the experience as much as the Audience.
No Teacher will teach exactly what we do for a living. Frequently I ask Parents, “What were you trained in?” and, “What do you do now?” They are seldom the same.
Teachers provide Learning Experiences.
The STEM subjects are important, however the inclusion of the Arts fosters an environment where Performance Training is integral.
Performance Arousal cannot be avoided, but it can be harnessed. When the Performer realises that Performance Arousal was developed to help when defending ourselves – albeit defending our Research – anxiety decreases.
The room is not looking at you. They are listening to what is being Presented