In the previous blog posts, we learned that being placed in a situation that requires a high performance (think: a huge presentation to your boss) situation creates stress. Stress creates performance anxiety. But more importantly: it creates adrenaline. And with adrenaline, you can choose to either fight or flight. Since bailing on your presentation isn't an option, it's time to harness that adrenaline and make the best of that stressful situation.
The key barrier is moving from left brain processes (critical thinking) to right brain processes (sensory) that will put us in "the zone"? How can we make that shift?
There are two major parts of this process. In the previous post, we learned about the important of focused breathing for reducing performance anxiety. In this one, we will learn about active mental rehearsal and centering yourself.
How do great artists perform with such apparent ease in front of huge audiences? How do some actors, musicians or great athletes maintain their composure and consistently advance in even the most stressful situations?
Practice, confidence and talent are important, of course. But once you get to a level where everyone is talented and everyone has prepared, it all comes down to another set of skills. Mental skills can be the difference between average performance and exceptional performance. Ones where you feel confident, exuberant and in the flow!
Like any other skills, these too can be learned. Studies consistently show that the most accomplished athletes and performers practice mental rehearsal which produces considerable improvement in their performance.
Create Your Own Resource State
Are you familiar with the martial arts concept of ki or chi? In Eastern philosophy, chi is described as being one’s “life force energy”. There is a specific location in our body, right around your navel, where the energy tends to congregate, which is essentially our center of gravity.
If you have ever observed the movements of a great martial arts master or Olympic athletes or professional dancers, you will notice a presence, grace, and balance about them regardless of their size or physical dimensions. Not only is the feeling of being centered a very calming and reassuring one, but the mere act of searching for your center will quiet your left brain or what we call the chatter of the monkey mind.
There is a tendency, when stressed, to hyper-focus on minute details. This may be highly desirable during practice sessions, but can be paralyzing onstage or during the time of performance. The solution is to learn to focus on a right-brain resource state: in essence, a reminder of what sounds, feelings or pictures come to you to produce the exact experience you want. Begin by breathing the Focused Energetic Breathing technique described in part 1.
This breathing process takes us into our body and into our internal creative state: right brain functioning. In this creative state we have our five senses available to us. Let’s identify them so that you know exactly what works best for you.
During common mental rehearsal techniques, coaches often ask us to visualize the performance we want. This is, of course, a very powerful procedure; however, not everyone is visual! So when asked to visualize, a person who is predominantly kinesthetic or auditory will feel frustrated as if they are doing it wrong and may give up. So the first, most important skill is to determine exactly which senses work best for you. This is especially important if you do not visualize very well (just like 40% of people don’t).
The Five Main Senses or Ways of Experiencing Your World
- Vision referred to as a visual person
- Sounds referred to as an auditory person
- Feelings or sensations referred to as a kinesthetic person
- Smells referred to as an olfactory person
- Taste referred to as a gustatory person
In process #1 below, while practicing the breathing techniques, we will help you to determine which senses are most predominant for you. This is extremely important since only 60% of people are actually visual. When the other 40% of people are asked to visualize and can’t, they often feel frustrated and experience failure during most mental rehearsal experiences. If you are not visual, you will be some combination of the others.
ENERGETIC MENTAL REHEARSAL
Process # 1: Mental Rehearsal to Determine Your Predominant Senses
This time while doing the breathing techniques described in the previous article, begin to notice which senses were most useful for you. Reflect on the questions below and write down what comes to you.
- While breathing into any of the seven areas of focus (head, neck/shoulders, chest/heart, solar plexus, navel/stomach, lower trunk/legs, feet) did you actually visualize or see any of your body parts that were referred to?
- Did you see any colors or any other symbols during your breathing?
- Were you able to hear any sounds such as music, people talking, laughing or clapping, dogs barking, or any of the sounds of being at your performance. Do these sounds effect you during your performance?
- During your breathing practice, did you experience any bodily sensations associated with your performance? These are called body memories and can be experienced even when not actually at a performance, but even just thinking about performing. Muscle tension such as tightness in your chest, arms, throat or stomach may be familiar since they may often come during a performance. This means that you may be a kinesthetic person and that your mental rehearsal will be directed more towards kinesthetic suggestions rather than visual.
- During your breathing practice did you notice any smells or fragrances associated with your performance? Perhaps your own perfume or the perfume of another person? This means you may also be an olfactory person and smells can be extremely positive or negative for you. You can use positive olfactory experiences to enhance your rehearsal.
- We did not address the gustatory experience. One way to do that is that performance anxiety is often reduced by drinking or eating something, usually sweet or sugary foods. Sit quietly and notice if you can actually taste whatever food or beverage that you have used before or after a performance to medicate your mood.
- Most people experience more than one of these senses. Many people who are not visual, may be kinesthetic and auditory. Some people have all of these. No one or combinations of senses is any better or worse than any others. The most important thing here is just to know which senses work for you and then to focus on those. Do not judge yourself about this.
Process # 2: Forming Your Own Positive Program, Energetic Mental Rehearsal
By the time you have gotten to this step, you will have made the shift into a quieter and more focused mental state conducive to performing your best. You will have taken the edge off your nerves, and learned how to release any tension through focused breathing. In this last step you will now channel your energy into a dynamic and inspired performance. This is exactly how you channel stressful energy instead of trying to get rid of it.
- Sit quietly, focus on your spot until your eyes close down. Now begin your breathing and move your breath down to your navel. This is where the powerful chi energy exists. Take as much time here as you need to move into your body and your breath.
- Now discover the exact words (phrases), images or colors, bodily sensations (feelings), sounds, music, or even familiar fragrances that cue up the experience that you wish to produce during your performance. Create a phrase that incorporates exactly what you wish your experience to be.
- Perhaps something like, “I am fully in the flow.” And continue to repeat it. This will quiet your mind as well as your body.
- Completely immerse yourself in your experience. Be sure to hear, feel, and see yourself performing exactly as you wish. Let yourself be there in your mind and experience these feelings in your body. Rehearse your performance as you continue to breathe gently from your belly. Place your hand there as a reminder.
- Notice any negative thoughts trying to pop in and just invite them to float away like a balloon. Then replace them with your phrase. Feel the joy of the performance, the excitement of connecting with the audience and the response of feeling free like a bird in flight.
- Continue this as long as you have time while you are awaiting your actual performance.
- Now, in order to experience the final step , begin to visualize or feel the chi energy in your navel moving up your spine gently. Inhale from your belly and feel the breath moving up your spine into your chest. Now gently exhale out through your heart center.
- Next, breath up and send the energy out through your throat. Breathe it up again and release it through your eyes and forehead.
- Continue this process of pulling the chi up your spine and releasing it. As you do this, feel the dynamic chi energy filling your body with colors, sounds and the feeling of excitement. You are now transforming previous stress into a very useful and powerful experience that will catapult you into your best performance ever.
When you first incorporate this energetic mental rehearsal, it may take several minutes to go through the steps. If you practice this for 10 minutes per day and stick with it, you will begin to notice a difference within a week. Soon it will become second nature and you will find that you can center your energy in less than a minute, especially just before your performance. Most people notice a big difference within days.
Process # 3: Practice Energetic Mental Rehearsal Before Bed to Improve Sleep and Performance
Another powerful tool is to incorporate your mental rehearsal just before you go to bed.
- Eliminate the breathing part, since that may keep you awake.
- When you first lay down, read what you need to memorize.
- As you are in bed, close your eyes and gently visualize the most intricate aspects of your sport, your script, words or lines in your upcoming presentation. Repeat several times anything that needs to be memorized or rehearsed.
- Now, as you are falling asleep continue to visualize or repeat what you are wanting to memorize. This is a good time to visualize course maps, words to songs or scripts.
- If they are long, just break them up into a natural order and do one each night.
You will be amazed at how gently you fall asleep and when you awake you will have unlocked a key to performing that perhaps you had not experienced before! The key here, like anything else, is consistency and persistence.
ENERGETIC CENTERING and MENTAL REHEARSAL will change your approach to performing and powerfully increase your sense of success.