(this article follows on from ‘How comedians overcome fear’)
You can employ the same strategies as comedians use for dealing with fear, reducing stress and increasing your confidence, even though you may be applying them in quite different life situations. So you can begin with the same overview as they do:
1) Distinguish between causes of fear which you can do something about – like being criticized, for example, or looking stupid, being seen naked – and those things which you cannot alter – like knowing that you’re going to die one day, or being unfriended on Facebook.
2) Take action to diminish the incidence of things you can do something about – be less of a pain towards other people, accept you’re stupid and stop worrying about it, keep your clothes on at all times….
3) Take action to diminish the effect on you of factors that you can’t eliminate or significantly change – look after your health better, get on with the things you know you want to do before you die, take out life insurance so that at least someone will benefit, do Google+ instead of Facebook….
Changing the way you’re thinking about what scares you is key to a whole lot of measures… Comedians know this; they need to master their minds – their distinctive thought processes are how they make their living, and determine whether they succeed or fail, every time they perform.
The way we manage our thought processes is central to developing confidence. When we think about events before they happen, all of us tend to routinely enact little mental dramas and scenarios about how they will go, and these have a powerful mental effect not only on how we feel, but also on how we will be able to respond when these circumstances arise. If those ‘home movies’ in your head are consistently based around how terribly wrong things are going to go, and how awfully badly you are going to react, then this is clearly not going to help you deal confidently with what’s coming up. Generally speaking, our negative visualisations tend to be highly exaggerated, and are often completely unjustified. It’s important to remember that you can only think one thing at a time. If you’re thinking about things going well, you can’t be thinking about them going badly.
So if you notice yourself visualising negatively in this way, make a habit of consistently challenging those thoughts. Ask yourself if they are accurate or realistic, and – if not – substitute a more positive scenario. Cultivate the habit of creating a positive yet realistic visualisation of how things could actually go for you – and how you’d prefer them to go. Let’s say, for instance, that you need to talk to someone about a problem which they’re causing you. When you visualise telling them about the effect that their actions has had on you, rather than seeing them exploding and calling the whole relationship off, you might imagine them appreciating your feedback, and thanking you for letting them know. This ‘thought replacement’ can be a strange and sometimes challenging process at first, but becomes a lot easier when you make it a regular habit.
It’s worth reminding ourselves that the majority of our fears turn out to be unfounded – for many people, it may be over 90%. Things we imagined having to deal with don’t happen, circumstances we anticipated turn out quite differently, a seemingly bad result can later turn out to be for the best – but we usually don’t reflect on those matters with the benefit of hindsight, because by the time things have turned out differently, we’re absorbed in new worries about what awful things are coming up next. Events in our lives are affected by a huge variety of complex factors, most of which are nothing to do with us anyway. This ‘negative anticipation’ is not only totally unproductive and a waste of good worrying, but bad for our confidence – and our ability to deal with adversity effectively, when it does arise. Positively train that inner voice in your head, and use that positive self-talk.
So the trick is always to analyse your fear and ask yourself – is it justified? Consequences we imagine are often worse than what we are anticipating, or may not affect us as adversely as we are unconsciously presuming.
What you’re trying to do, in as many ways as possible is take measures to eliminate risk, take steps to reduce unnecessary pressure on yourself. Fear is a lot to do with uncertainty; do all you can to reduce any areas of uncertainty that you can think of. You won’t be able to eliminate them all, of course – there will always be some uncertainty, and that’s great too – but there will be a lot of things you can do to reduce your fear factor and expand your comfort zone.
A highly effective approach to allaying fear lies in the performing comedian’s strategy of anticipating things that could go wrong in your own life situations, and have a strategy ready to deal with each of them, rather than being taken unawares. For instance, comedians often have a repertoire of things to say to hecklers who interrupt them, varying in creativity from “I have the microphone. Shut up” to “Yes, I was like that too, the night I had my first drink” or “Isn’t it annoying when you’re having a really good conversation with your mates, and then somebody builds a comedy club around you and interrupts your conversation?”. You might benefit from having corresponding strategies to address your own problems – like dealing with somebody who causes you extreme stress e.g. a clever put-down, a disarmingly friendly compliment – or bringing along a bodyguard….
For instance, let’s say you’re going out on a date, and you’re nervous about how things are going to go. You could put yourself more at ease by gathering a few ideas in advance – think about what you’re scared of, and have a potential strategy worked out for the worst eventualities. What would this look like?…..
Comedians quickly become aware that they can really be quite nervous without the audience necessarily realising it. Nervous symptoms – such as confused thinking, going blank, butterflies in the stomach, dry mouth, tight chest and breathing – can seem very dominant to the person experiencing them, but an audience may not become aware of them. It’s important to remember this, and distinguish between what is going on within oneself and rely on more reliable indicators of what others are picking up on. This can be a huge factor in getting your nerves under control and getting back to calmness. Building on this thought, a useful tactic in this situation is to cultivate putting your attention on the other people rather on yourself.
There is indeed a difference between genuine confidence and fake confidence. But fake confidence can play a valuable temporary role – remember that cliché: you can often, indeed, ‘fake it till you’re making it’. The trick is to experience fear and to know that it’s there, but not to be ruled by it – not to be governed by fear of fear itself. Winston Churchill famously said, “If you are going through hell, keep going.” If all else fails, watch out for my next book, Feel the Fear and Change Your Underpants. (I might be joking about that.)
Support helps confidence, too. Comedians get support from the MC, from other comedians they are performing with, from the people who book them, from their spouses at home when things have gone badly, even from the audience most of the time – and this is something to bear in mind. You too can probably boost your confidence by drawing on support from other people – partners, family, colleagues, mentors, coaches, teachers. You don’t need to deal with everything on your own. Remember too, as comedians do well to remember, that most of the time, most of the people around you want you to succeed.
Developing confidence is an on-going process, which will inevitably have ups and downs – times when things will go better, and times when they will go worse. This is perfectly natural. Don’t give up over one or two failures – focus on the bigger picture, and on the mid-term and longer term view – like comedians, who have to get over a bad show and view it in the perspective of their comedy career.
Some people who start out on comedy realise that, actually, it isn’t for them – it’s just too scary and stressful. That’s a viable option. But at least they found this out by giving it a go. And it’s the same for us – you don’t have to put yourself through terrifying experiences, if you can’t find a way of making them manageable, and create a positive overall experience. So sometimes you just have to just say “no”. But it might be good to try first, rather than making fear-based assumptions, and then finding yourself on your death-bed thinking: if only I had said ‘yes’ to more opportunities – written an epic novel, travelled to Inner Mongolia, done a bungee jump in Timbuktu, learned to play the Tibetan mouth harp….
Perhaps the most important underlying aim of all this, in the face of challenges and daunting circumstances, and while taking all these helpful measures, is to be able to be yourself – to let your individuality come through, rather than feeling pressurised to meet some external standard of how you should live your life. That ‘someone else’ could be an individual, a peer group, a family, or indeed society. Your own particular collection of characteristics, habits and behaviour represent your unique strength, your Unique Selling Point – a unique advantage which no other individual has. … Be yourself; don’t try to be someone you’re really not… I hope you can develop the confidence to make the most of your own amazingness, and live your dream. Go for it!
“Watch out for emergencies. They are your big chance!” – Fritz Reiner