I learned today of the passing of motivational speaker Zig Ziglar yesterday. I admit I am not an avid reader of his material, but I did read a couple of his books when I was in college. And when I have come across his quotes I have always found them helpful.
In fact, I have been saving an article of his since last spring to include as part of a blog post. So now seems like the right time to do that.
The article is about how to deal with fear. I will include it here:
Advice on Overcoming Fear
By Zig Ziglar
Fear has been correctly identified with the acrostic False
Evidence Appearing Real. The truth is that if we think
something is to be feared, that perception becomes the
cruelest form of reality.
A second-grade boy was overheard saying, “It’s easy to be
brave when you’re not scared.” By the same token, it’s easy
to talk about how to overcome fear when you have little to
be afraid of. Fear is certainly real for most people and all
of us face a fear of something — poverty, divorce,
rejection, death, failure, speaking in public, being laughed
How do we overcome fear? First we must learn to examine our
fears. Example: Giving a speech, which is the number one
fear in our country, according to Reader’s Digest. (It’s
also a tremendous confidence-builder.) If that’s your fear,
ask yourself a few questions. “Why am I afraid to make a
speech? Is it because I’m afraid of being rejected? Then why
do I think I’ll be rejected?
Do I believe what I’m about to say? Is my speech worth
giving? Am I proud of the comments I’m about to make?” As
you ask yourself these questions, the fear will begin to
subside. It subsides because you have explored your
subconscious mind with your questions and flushed out some
of your fears.
My research indicates that only three people have died while
making a speech. Since twelve billion people have lived and
only three of them died making a speech, I’d say it’s a
fairly safe thing to do.
If you’re a little nervous, consider this: You could lead a
mule into a crowded room and he would be so calm that he
would almost go to sleep standing up. A thoroughbred in the
same situation would be as nervous as a cat.
If you’re a little nervous, just be grateful you’re a
thoroughbred — not a mule. So face those inner feelings,
stand up and speak up with confidence. When you do, I’ll see
you at the top!
Zig Ziglar is a teacher and motivator. He offers a
newsletter filled with more of his inspiring stories as well
as practical ideas to help you in the areas of sales,
marketing, customer service, and related topics. You can
visit him at http://www.ziglar.com
The reason I felt this article was worth sharing is because of the obvious relationship of the topic to our experience as singing performers. Considering speaking in public is the #1 fear for the majority of people, where does that put singing in public?
I remember when I was in college having the feeling that if I could sing in front of an audience it would be much easier to speak. And it was. I did a minor in Theater so I could get experience acting, since I had none. And getting up to speak was much easier than getting up to sing. But maybe that is unique to me.
The main idea I had with this article is that the same helpful suggestions aimed to help the public speaker can be beneficial to the singer.
I always thought the clever False Evidence Appearing Real interpretation of FEAR was a bit of shtick. But if you think about it there is a lot of accuracy in it. Much of what we are afraid of doesn’t actually exist. But act like it does.
To keep it simple, we can consider there to be two kinds of fear. There is the fear of bodily harm, physical fear. We are out in the wilderness and happen upon a bear. That is real fear.
And we don’t have to worry about real fear because our instinct and nervous system will take care of that for us. A survival instinct is hard-wired into us, so any kind of threat to our survival will set it off. This real fear is meant to keep us alive and will do so through the fight or flight response that we often read about.
Then there is emotional fear. This is the “false” fear, in a sense. False because we are not in any danger of physical harm. But our brain and nervous system often reacts in the same way as for real, physical fear.
It is a good example of the often quoted principle that the brain doesn’t really know the difference between something actually happening and vividly imagined. This is the basis of hypnotism. A hypnotist is someone who can guide people to vividly imagining things to the point that they act as if those things are actually happening.
This is basically what is happening when we experience the false form of fear. We imagine the circumstances are dangerous in some sort of way. Maybe we are worried that we may forget our words, or our voice may crack. Because of the imagined humiliation of such an experience, being emotionally dangerous, our brain considers the situation as being physically dangerous. And stimulates the same physical reaction.
The suggested questions to ask yourself are a great place to start in alleviating yourself of the fear to perform. Continuing on to questions that are more specific to your own situation would be the next step.
The place I would suggest starting from is the reality of the situation. I wrote a post some time ago about facing reality. Dealing with the fear of performance is another form of facing reality.
The reality is you are scheduled to perform. So there is a commitment that has been made. Do you know your material well enough? This might be the most critical question to ask. Performance anxiety is always increased when there has been insufficient preparation.
But even if the circumstances are such that you aren’t as prepared as you would like. That is the reality of how it is. No sense in trying to make believe things are any different. Accept that fact and move on. Do the best you can. And ultimately, that is all we can ever do. It is a little cliche, and we have heard it since we were kids. But that is really all we can do.
And learning to look at things in this way can go a long way to reducing the nervousness and fear that accompanies performance. Many of us have the unrealistic view that we must be perfect. Which in reality is impossible. And not even necessary to be successful.
But what is necessary is performing. Performing doesn’t mean just singing. And it doesn’t mean moving around and making lots of gestures. It means being a person that is involved and committed to what they are doing. They are actually expressing the words and melody that they are singing. For music to communicate it must come from a human that is alive. Now, of course there has never been a dead person on stage singing. But there have been plenty that gave that impression.
As Zig points out in the article, there have only been 3 people who died giving a speech. There is an equally small percentage who have died singing. (There unfortunately have been a few, Leonard Warren being one) So few that we can safely say that we run very little risk of any physical harm coming to us because we are in front of people singing.
And if we can accept that we should be able to recognize that because there is virtually no risk of physical harm, we have very little to be afraid of. The fear we feel is illogical. Of course logic doesn’t often come into play with artists. But if we can accept a little logic it might pay off for us.
(I have theorized that we have so many emotional fears because of how few true physical threats we experience in our modern society. At least compared to our ancestors who were actually potential prey for larger predators. It seems like our brain needs to fill that void, so it does so by creating emotional fears that feel like our life is in danger when it is not.)
Ask yourself what if questions. What if I crack? What if I forget my words/place in the music/whatever? What if my technique is bad? What if I trip walking out onstage? What if the pianist skips a page? What if I open my mouth and nothing comes out? What if…? What if…? What if…?
Come up with as many as you can. Then ask yourself, so what? Who cares? If any of these things happen what’s the big deal? Really, NOTHING. Let me break it to you. These things DO HAPPEN. And when they do you just keep on going. No big deal.
Usually, what is more important is how you handle the break-down, not the fact that one happened. That is where being prepared can help. And often the audience won’t even know that something was wrong. Unless you show them by how you react. So just keep doing your thing and they might not even know. And again, so what if they do. It happened and you can’t change it, so move on.
But on an even more basic level, recognizing that it isn’t the end of the world for any of these things to happen can really help us to not be afraid of our performance. You just do the best you can and give of yourself. The majority of an audience will respond to that more than if the technique is less than ideal. Just look at the success of Bob Dylan and Bruce Springsteen. Or Maria Callas and Giuseppe di Stefano.
And perhaps most important of all, remember that you love to do this. At least that is what we assume, since you pretty much have to to go through all of what we do to get to the point of performing. And when we act like we love it, if we can fill our emotional tank with the love of singing there won’t be any room for the negative emotions and fear. So when you finally get to the point of performing don’t forget the whole reason you are there. Because you love to sing.