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Does this sound like you? You battle feelings of nervousness, self-doubt, and vulnerability while performing. Your heart pounds, your fingers tremble, and your vision blurs. Anxious thoughts and feelings distract you, keeping you from concentrating fully on the task at hand. Your nerves sometimes even lead to mistakes like missed notes or forgotten lines of dialogue.
Even if the performance goes well, the emotional ordeal prevents you from enjoying the moment. Perhaps worst of all, you’re painfully aware that nervousness is keeping you from realizing your full potential.
Most of us who perform in public as musicians, actors, dancers, comedians, or the like, recognize ourselves in that description. In fact, stage fright and speech fright reign as the #1 fear of people everywhere.
Some estimates put the number of those who suffer from stage fright as high as 75%. Remarkably, one study even found that 70% of professional orchestra musicians experience such intense anxiety that it mars their performance.
But it doesn’t have to be that way. There is an effective solution to stage fright. But it’s not found in trying to fight it as you might tend to think. It’s found in the opposite—in the type of acceptance that comes through what is known as mindfulness.
With acceptance comes detachment from your stage fright. Your nervousness may not disappear completely, but it fades into the background, and its hold on you shrivels. As it does, you’re able to achieve your full potential as a performer and can enjoy the spotlight. You can also more readily attain a state of flow associated with peak performance.
Welcome to the Goodbye Butterflies 5-Day Stage Fright Solution.
I’ve created this book as a companion to my online course of the same name. Scores of performers of all kinds have completed the course to help them find the way beyond their stage fright. It’s offered through my website, GoodbyeButterflies.com.
This book version of Goodbye Butterflies presents the material found in the online course as well as supplemental items. You can use it as either a stand-alone DIY resource or as a reference if you’re enrolled in the online course. Both the online and book versions of Goodbye Butterflies will teach you how to use mindfulness in finding the way beyond the anxiety you experience as a performer.
Notice that I didn’t say cure your anxiety. As I will explain later, that’s an unattainable goal that you shouldn’t waste your time trying to achieve.
What Goodbye Butterflies offers is a way to escape the bind that stage fright puts you in. If you’re reading this, the chances are that your anxiety is more than a frustration. To some extent, it’s an impediment to you as a performer.
Stage fright creates an unworkable situation as it stands like a roadblock between you and the realization of your full potential. It also takes the joy out of being in the spotlight.
I’ve been working to create Goodbye Butterflies for some years now and, in a larger sense, my entire adult life. I’ve brought together my years of experience as a performer and educator along with my long background in the mindfulness at the heart of Zen to offer genuine hope for those who experience stage fright.
It’s effective, straightforward and offers quick results.
It’s hard to believe that something can help you with your stage fright in just five days, isn’t it? After all, you’ve probably suffered from it for years. It’s difficult to imagine because most of us have it all wrong when it comes to this scourge.
Stage fright is like the type of finger traps we use to play with as kids. Our instinct is to pull to get free, but that just makes their hold stronger. The real answer is counterintuitive. The same goes for stage fright.
What exactly is the counterintuitive answer for stage fright? It’s found in the simple, proven power of mindfulness. Mindfulness is the acceptance of thoughts and sensations, even those you find troubling. That includes the nervousness you experience when you perform.
I know accepting rather than fighting your stage fright may seem crazy right now. I promise it’ll make sense later as you begin to apply mindfulness to your onstage anxiety.
Goodbye Butterflies is the first and only approach to harness mindfulness to help musicians, actors, and other performers find their way beyond stage fright.
To create it, I’ve brought together my years of experience as a performer and educator along with my background in the practice of mindfulness to help individuals find the way beyond their nervousness. It’s the same approach I developed for my students at the college where I serve as a professor and now offer as an interactive online course through GoodbyeButterflies.com.
Just as important as what Goodbye Butterflies is and who it’s for is what it’s not and who it’s not for.
Mindfulness is not therapy as I present it here, and I’m not a therapist. I’m an educator teaching you an effective method for alleviating stage fright and coaching you through the process of applying it to your situation.
Chummy, feel-good, candy-coated approaches to overcoming stage fright tend to hold little real value. Just Google “overcoming stage fright” and you’ll find dozens and dozens of web pages that trumpet something like “Ten tips for beating stage fright.” Such methods may go down easy but are pretty much worthless.
Goodbye Butterflies, on the other hand, relies on age-old techniques that are quickly gaining scientific validity in the 21st century.
Some other approaches weigh themselves down with arcane, hard-to-follow concepts. Goodbye Butterflies also avoids this pitfall. It offers a straightforward, no-nonsense process you can begin using just as soon as you learn the ins and outs of how it works.
Being straightforward and no-nonsense is crucial. Of what use is an approach that’s overly complicated when you need it most, as anxious thoughts are making it hard to concentrate on performing? It’s of no use.
I’ve worked hard to distill the essence of applying mindfulness to your stage fright into a simple, direct approach.
The heart of the Goodbye Butterflies process is so straightforward and no-nonsense that it fits on a 3 x 5 cue card. On Day 3, I’ll tell you how you can get a copy of the card to personalize and print out. Take it with you to performances, auditions, competitions, and the like, as a reminder of what to do when you find yourself in the throes of stage fright.
Musicians, actors, dancers and other types of performers will all find the Goodbye Butterflies approach in helping them deal with the stage fright they experience. As I noted in the Preface, stage fright is stage fright no matter what type of performer you are. The causes, symptoms, and answer are all the same. For that reason, I’ve created the 5-Day Solution for all performers.
You’ll find the Goodbye Butterflies approach applicable to a range of performance situations. This includes performing in front of audiences, but the benefits of the 5-Day Solution extend to auditions, tryouts, and the sort of juries music students face.
The broad applicability of Goodbye Butterflies extends to those who speak or compete in public. The causes and symptoms of as well as the answer for the anxiety public speakers and athletes experience is the same as it is for performers with stage fright. For that reason, I’ve included a chapter in the Bonus Content section of the book, “Public Speakers, Athletes & More,” on adapting the 5-Day Solution to their specific needs.
Please note, though, that I haven’t designed Goodbye Butterflies for those with severe forms of stage fright or when it’s part of a larger issue, like social anxiety. For such individuals, you might still find benefit in Goodbye Butterflies, but I recommend you seek the help of a trained therapist.
Finding your way beyond stage fright holds several important benefits. For one thing, you won’t be able to achieve your full potential as a performer or show the world all the talent you possess until you do. The stakes are that high.
In finding the solution for stage fright, you can also learn to enjoy the spotlight rather than dread it. Wouldn’t that be wonderful? As performers, we love what we do and naturally want to share it others. Free from stage fright’s clutches, you can relish your moments on stage instead of fearing them.
Flow and Peak Performance
The method at the heart of Goodbye Butterflies offers one more benefit. You’ll learn in a later chapter that mindfulness leads to what is known as flow. That’s the mental state in which you’re completely immersed in an activity, like performing. Flow, in turn, serves as the gateway to peak performance or optimal effort as a performer.
That’s why you won’t fulfill your potential as a performer until you find your way beyond stage fright. Anxiety keeps you from enjoying a state of flow and therefore attaining the peak performance you know is inside of you.
Goodbye Butterflies represents a pioneering approach that brings the power of mindfulness to the alleviation of stage fright. To create it, I’ve combined my experience as a performer and educator with my background in the mindful practices found at the heart of Zen. It’s the same approach I first developed for my students at Catawba College in North Carolina.
You don’t need to take my word for it when it comes to the power of mindfulness. As reported in respected media sources like the New York Times, Psychology Today, Newsweek, and Time, the scientific community is discovering something age-old traditions have known all along. Mindfulness provides a powerful answer for a broad range of problems, including the sort of anxiety performers suffer.
I’ve organized the heart of this book into days. Specifically, each chapter represents a day in the Goodbye Butterflies 5-Day Solution. I need to make one thing clear about this. While Goodbye Butterflies is a 5-day solution, it doesn’t need to be five days in a row.
It’s better to wait to tackle a chapter until you can devote enough time, energy, and attention to it. Each chapter is relatively short, so you should be able to complete it in a single sitting.
Days 1 through 3 provide information about stage fright that will transform how you look at it. Changing your perspective on the anxiety you experience as a performer is an important part of the work we’ll be doing together.
The information falls into two categories. The first is an explanation of the problem stage fright represents. The second is an introduction to how mindfulness provides an answer.
On Day 4, you’ll apply mindfulness to an actual performance for the first time. I’ll explain more about this later in the chapter and ask you to identify an event for your first performance. You can then schedule Days 1-3 based on when Day 4 takes place.
Day 5 will then deepen and extend your mindfulness. I also give you some parting concepts to help you continue developing mindfulness as the way beyond your stage fright.
Along the way, I’ll give you exercises to help bring home the problem with stage fright as you experience it. You’ll find them together in the Workbook, but each is key to a part of the 5-Day Solution. The exercises are central to the Goodbye Butterflies process, so please take the time to complete them.
Days 1-3 each begin with an additional type of exercise to help you gain some experience practicing mindfulness before you apply it to your Day 4 performance.
Following the Workbook, you’ll find a Bonus Content section. It includes more mindfulness exercises and additional information about stage fright. None of the chapters found there are necessary to carry out the 5-Day Solution. You can either read them after you’ve completed your mindfulness training or as a supplement to enjoy along the way.
Let’s now take a deeper look at what we’ll be doing on each day of the 5-Day Solution.
We start with your first mindfulness exercise. You’ll find one at the beginning of the first three days to help you gain experience with the skill that is central to the Goodbye Butterflies process. On Day 1, we’ll then consider what causes stage fright, why it’s not your fault that you get nervous, and learn about the genuine hope offered by mindfulness. I’ll also help you establish realistic goals for the 5-Day Solution.
Our second day together is about gaining a better understanding of stage fright and the mindful answer to it. You’ll learn how surface worries often mask a deep danger at the heart of your anxiety as a performer. We’ll then look at the solution offered by mindfulness with emphasis on enjoying a more workable situation when you perform. I’ll also reveal how finding your way beyond stage fright leads to a state of flow and how flow leads to peak performance.
Day 3 introduces each of the four aspects of the Goodbye Butterflies READ process. This acronym stands for read, engage, accept, and detach, and it’s the simple recipe for finding your way beyond stage fright. I’ll show you how to apply each aspect as you perform. You’ll also identify core values you bring to performing that can serve as an important source of courage and commitment in facing your anxiety.
With me guiding you, you’ll now apply mindfulness to some sort of performance. I’ll show you what to do both before and during the event to help keep your stage fright in check and how to track your progress with a Performance Log.
On our final day together, we’ll look back at the journey we’ve taken together and look at how you can use what you’ve learned going forward. I’ll show you how to deepen your skills at mindfulness and enjoy its benefits in areas of your life beyond performing.
That’s quite a bit to accomplish in five days, but you can do it if you take things one day at a time. I’ve successfully helped many performers learn the 5-Day Solution. The ultimate benefit of the Goodbye Butterflies process is that your five days of hard work now will pay off in a lifetime of release from stage fright.
Day 4 is a big one for us. It’s when you’ll apply the mindfulness you learn to an actual performance, audition, competition, or similar event. Days 1 through 3 are preparation leading up to it.
So, look at your calendar to see when you have an upcoming event you can use for your Day 4 performance. I wouldn’t make it a major event if you can help it. That’s putting too much on the line. It does need to be a performance you think will provoke your stage fright, though.
If you don’t have an appropriate event on the horizon, try to invent one. For example, if you’re a musician, you might try busking by finding a street corner, subway station, or the like, to perform for passing individuals. That sort of casual event provides an excellent opportunity to practice applying mindfulness to performing.
Whatever you select as your Day 4 performance, schedule Days 1 through 3 to lead up to it. Again, being a 5-Day solution doesn’t mean that it must be five days in a row, and it’s probably better if it isn’t.
When you have a Day 4 performance in mind, fill out Exercise 1 in the Workshop section before continuing with this chapter.
A couple of core ideas are fundamental to Goodbye Butterflies. I’s like to introduce them here to highlight their importance and get the ball rolling a little.
You should start seeing quick improvement with your stage fright with the Goodbye Butterflies process, but the 5-Day Solution is just a beginning. Mindfulness is a skill, and all skills improve with practice.
Our five days are a bit like a journey we’ll be taking together. I’m going to show you how to go beyond your anxiety to reach your destination—performances less encumbered by stage fright. I’ll even travel there with you one time on Day 4.
You’ll then be ready to make the same journey on your own with the roadmap I’ve given you. With each trip, you’ll become a more seasoned traveler who can apply mindfulness to your stage fright with increasing know-how. With this, you’ll be better able to achieve more of your full potential as a performer. You’ll also come to enjoy the spotlight more.
For reasons you’ll learn later, there’s no one-and-done cure for stage fright. Trying to find one is not a realistic goal, and you shouldn’t waste your time and energy pursuing it. I know that’s probably not what you want to hear. Nonetheless, it’s the truth.
Stage fright is a natural phenomenon, like becoming angry or sad. As such, it’s something you may experience to some extent all your life. For that reason, I don’t claim that Goodbye Butterflies is a cure for stage fright. It isn’t.
That’s the reason you’ll never hear me talk about you getting rid of or conquering your nervousness. Instead, I’m careful to always speak in terms of you “finding your way beyond stage fright.”
What does that mean, finding your way beyond stage fright? The 5-Day Solution will teach you how to find detachment from your anxiety to achieve a more workable situation when you perform. Your stage fright may not magically disappear, but you’ll be beyond its clutches.
Imagine that stage fright is like a condition, say diabetes. There is no cure, but you can find your way beyond it through exercise, eating right, and the like. You can create a workable situation for yourself that allows you to lead a healthy life. The same goes for stage fright.
Again, stage fright is as natural as becoming angry or sad. But through mindfulness, you can find the way beyond your anxiety to enjoy a more workable situation when you perform. Goodbye Butterflies will help you achieve that goal so that you can better achieve your potential and enjoy the spotlight more.
That’s it for our introductory chapter. Let’s briefly recap what we just covered. We:
- looked at what the Goodbye Butterflies 5-Day Stage Fright Solution is and isn’t.
- considered who it’s for and not for.
- reviewed the benefits of finding your way beyond stage fright.
- revealed how Goodbye Butterflies is different than other approaches for tackling the anxiety you experience as a performer.
- glanced ahead at each of the five days ahead.
- set a Day 4 performance and scheduled the preceding days to lead up to it.
We’re now prepped to begin our five-day journey together. See you tomorrow or whenever you have the time for Day 1.