Understanding Stage Fright

Stage fright is the most common fear of people everywhere. Despite such prevalence, it’s not well understood. This page helps shine some light on fundamental aspects of stage fright and other forms of performance anxiety, such as speech fright and competition anxiety.

—Dr. David Lee Fish

Why Do We Get Nervous?

The most basic question concerning stage fright is why its strikes.

Sometimes, the answer seems pretty obvious, especially when the stakes of a performance, presentation, or competition are high. Take a major audition for an actor or musician or a championship game for an athlete. A person’s whole career could hang in the balance. Getting nervous at such a moment, while counterproductive, makes a lot of sense.

However, stage fright can also strike when the stakes don’t appear to be all that high. That’s when it seems the most frustrating and embarrassing when we get nervous over an event that should be no big deal. Why do we sometimes get nervous even then?

Three Primary Factors

To understand why stage fright can strike even at times that seem inconsequential, we need to consider the three primary factors that are always at play whenever we experience it.

The first factor is that you do something in front of others. With stage fright, it’s some sort of performance. With speech fright, it’s an aural presentation, lecture, interview, or the like. With the type of competitive anxiety experienced by athletes, it’s a public competition of one kind or another.

The second factor behind stage fright is that those who you are in front of judge you or at least you feel they’re doing so. In some situations, the judgement is formal, as during an audition or competition. Audiences judge informally too. They do so by how enthusiastically they applaud, cheer, and sometimes even boo.

The third factor behind stage fright is that the judgment constitutes a threat, real or imagined. This part tends to be overlooked in explanations about stage fright, but it’s crucial. Stage fright doesn’t arise unless you perceive some sort of threat.

Threat & Likelihood

The threat at the root of stage fright depends on the performer and the event. As an example, let’s consider the putting meltdown of Ernie Els at the 2016 Masters—an incident the four-time major champion chalked up to nerves (blog post). Els probably experienced a sudden, unexpected threat to his professional reputation that grew with each missed putt.

When former One Direction member Zayn Malik recently cancelled an important performance owing to nerves, the threat likely had something to do with the audience concluding he’s not as good as a solo performer than he was with his boy band (blog post).

Both of these examples involve genuine threats, and that’s typically the case with stage fright. Rather than a person’s anxiety being over something dubious, there’s commonly something quite legitimate and significant at the heart of things. However, the core threat behind a person’s stage fright is often hidden by layers of surface worries that may not seem all that meaningful.

The Downward Arrow Technique and its series of “If that happened, then what?” questions can help peel away surface worries to reveal the underlying threat at the root of an individual’s stage fright.

You can try it yourself by using the link below.

Golfer Ernie Els

What Threat?

Try the Downward Arrow Technique to reveal the threat at the heart of your own stage or speech fright.


While stage fright typically constitutes a genuine threat, that doesn’t necessarily mean the danger is likely.

In business, they use a matrix approach for weighing the probability of a threat against its potential likelihood. We can do the same with stage fright.

The experience of Mel, a friend who had a profound fear of her bladder betraying her whenever she performed, provides a good example. Using the matrix to the left, we could say the potential consequence of Mel experiencing a bladder problem while performing to be severe to major, maybe even catastrophic. On the other hand, the likelihood of it happening was very low.

The Heart of the Problem

Wouldn’t it be wonderful if you could just view the threat level of your stage fright on a matrix and the nervousness disappeared? Unfortunately, it hardly ever works that way.

Cognitive restructuring, changing how we think about something, is the main approach most people turn to in trying to battle performance anxiety. However, it’s seldom effective.

Why doesn’t cognitive restructuring work well? The plain fact is that we have limited control over our thinking process, as a simple 30-second experiment quickly reveals.

30-Second Experiment

Try the simple 30-second experiment that reveals why thinking your way beyond stage fright doesn't work.

Perfectly Human

The ineffectiveness of cognitive restructuring and other approaches in battling stage fright can leave a person feeling somehow broken. Nothing could be further from the truth though.

What we experience as stage fright are simply the manifestations of the body’s autonomic nervous system protecting us from a perceived threat. That’s essential for our survival, and it’s just as natural experiencing anger or sadness. In fact, experiencing stage fright actually demonstrates that you’re perfect, perfectly human.


Natural or not, experiencing stage fright is no fun. Its symptoms, including blurred vision, a racing heart, and trembling fingers, can cause significant distress and take the joy out of standing in the spotlight.

But stage fright can cause more than discomfort. It can also create an impediment to performing well. It can even feel like a permanent roadblock standing between you and living up to your full potential.

Stage fright creates an unworkable situation In this regard. It keeps you from accomplishing all that you could otherwise as a perform, speaker, or athlete.


How Unworkable?

Take a short quiz to determine how much of an impediment stage fright is in your life.


No Cure-All

People search in vain for a way to permanently “conquer” their stage fright through cognitive restructuring and other means. But there is no cure-all for it anymore than there is one for anger or sadness.

In fact, pursuing a one-and-done solution for stage fright is what as known as a Dead Man Goal since it’s unobtainable by living, breathing individuals.

It’s Not Your Fault

It’s not your fault then if you haven’t been able to conquer your stage fright given that there is no cure-all. In addition, no established form of treatment offers an adequate level of help.

The fact that so few people get over their problems with stage fright says as much. Even some of the most successful performers struggle with anxiety throughout their careers, and they can afford the best treatment available.

The Mindful Answer

While there is no miracle cure for stage fright, there is something that offers genuine hope in finding the way beyond it. It’s actually something age-old traditions have known all along and exciting new schools of therapy are just now beginning to discover. It represents ancient wisdom meeting scientific validity in the 21st century.

We’ve Got It Wrong

We pretty much have it all wrong when it comes to dealing with stage fright. We try to actively fight it through cognitive restructuring it and other head-on approaches.

But performance anxiety is like the type of finger trap toy children play with. Our instinct is to pull to get out of it, but that just makes it’s hold stronger.

To get out of a finger trap we do the opposite of what’s intuitive. The same holds for stage fright.

Acceptance is the Key

But what exactly is “the opposite of what’s intuitive” when it comes to stage fright? It’s to accept our anxiety rather than trying to fight it. We do so through the simple power of mindfulness.

As paradoxical as it may seem, such mindful acceptance is the key to finding the way beyond stage fright. It doesn’t necessarily make your stage fright disappear, but it frees you from your anxiety.

Simple & No-Nonsense

The type of mindfulness used to find the way beyond stage fright is quite simple and straightforward. That’s important.

What good is an approach that’s too complicated to use when you need it most, when you’re thinking is clouded by anxious thoughts during a performance, presentation, or competition? You need something that you can call on like a genie in a bottle to come to your aid.

Quick Results

Here’s another major benefit of mindfulness. You can start to see results almost immediately.

Mindfulness is a skill and its benefits grow as you gain experience. Still, most people begin to see results almost at once. Stage fright’s strangle hold on you loosens, and you begin to enjoy a more workable situation.

Discover the 7-Day Solution

Goodbye Butterflies is the only comprehensive solution for stage fright and other forms of performance anxiety (speech fright, the yips, etc.) to harness the power of mindfulness.

Designed by noted performance anxiety authority Dr. David Lee Fish, Goodbye Butterflies’ online training course guarantees to reduce the severity of your anxiety in just seven days or your money back.

Let’s Get Started!

Ready to find your own way beyond stage fright? There’s no reason to let it hold you back any longer.

To get things rolling, here’s FREE access to my new report:

5 Surprising Facts & 2 Big
Secrets About Stage Fright

You’ll also get:

  • exclusive info on the 7-Day Online Training Course
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