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3 Steps to Deal Kindly with FEAR

How classical musicians can move through stage fright

“It is only through an affirmation of our fear … that we can cross our inner boundaries.” Dr. Irmtraud Kruger

Step 1: Acknowledge the fear, don’t run from it.

When your hands start to shake, your mouth gets dry, and your breathing becomes shallow, the natural response is to try to escape the fear. You know what is coming and you want to avoid it at all costs! You’ve worked so hard for this performance and the thought that performance anxiety would interfere with what you are trying to do is so frustrating.

“Breathe! Calm Down! Relax!” All words which attempt to stop the fear and push it back down where it doesn’t affect your playing.

But it never works, does it?

Trying to outrun the fear only intensifies it. The fear of your fear becomes far worse than the original feeling and can, ultimately, be the reason your performance doesn’t go as well as it could have.

There is another way - a way of acceptance and acknowledgment.

Author Elizabeth Gilbert puts it like this in her book Big Magic: I even have a welcoming speech prepared for fear, which I deliver right before embarking upon any new project or big adventure. It goes something like this: “Dearest Fear: Creativity and I are about to go on a road trip together. I understand you’ll be joining us, because you always do. I acknowledge that you believe you have an important job to do in my life, and that you take your job seriously. Apparently your job is to induce complete panic whenever I’m about to do anything interesting—and, may I say, you are superb at your job. So by all means, keep doing your job, if you feel you must. But I will also be doing my job on this road trip, which is to work hard and stay focused. And Creativity will be doing its job, which is to remain stimulating and inspiring. There’s plenty of room in this vehicle for all of us, so make yourself at home, but understand this: Creativity and I are the only ones who will be making any decisions along the way. I recognize and respect that you are part of this family, and so I will never exclude you from our activities, but still—your suggestions will never be followed. You’re allowed to have a seat, and you’re allowed to have a voice, but you are not allowed to have a vote. You’re not allowed to touch the road maps; you’re not allowed to suggest detours; you’re not allowed to fiddle with the temperature. Dude, you’re not even allowed to touch the radio. But above all else, my dear old familiar friend, you are absolutely forbidden to drive.”

Rather than shoving fear deep down inside or running from it as fast as you can, speak to it. Acknowledge that it is part of your story, part of being brave, but choose not to heed its advice.

Step 2: See the fear as an indicator that you are on the right path.

Recently I reached out to several publications to see if they’d be interested in having me write an article for them. I’ve never done that before and my fear was right there with me, trying to convince me of all the reasons I should not hit send on those emails. Thankfully, though, I’ve been at this long enough to expect fear to jump in with her opinion. I see it as confirmation that I am indeed on the right path. Because, frankly, when I am doing things that are small and safe fear has no need to step in. But, when I am walking outside my comfort zone, like I was with these emails, fear gets quite …. Assertive.

In those moments I say, “Yup, this seems right. I’m doing something brave and you’re here trying to keep me safe. But, my dear fear, I have lived on the couch and I don’t want that for myself anymore. I choose instead to trust my intuition; I choose to trust Big Me; I choose to believe in the abundance of the universe and my capacity to help make it more beautiful.”

Step 3: Remind fear that you are strong enough to deal with failure and what you don’t want is to live safe and on the couch.

Fear isn’t mean-spirited, it just doesn’t want you to get hurt. And when you choose to not listen to fear, you very well might get hurt. You might not win the audition or the competition; you might not have a large audience at your new chamber series; you might not get called for the gig or invited to present at the conference. Those things hurt. They do.

But, you are strong enough to feel hurt, lick your wounds, and try again. When you understand that failing is part of the game - that it is an essential part of the game - you are able to experience it and move through it. Fear doesn’t need to protect you from failure. It just thinks it does.

3 Steps to Deal Kindly with Fear
Step 1: Acknowledge the fear, don’t run from it.
Step 2: See the fear as an indicator that you are on the right path.
Step 3: Remind fear that you are strong enough to deal with failure and what you don’t want is to live safe and on the couch.

I hope this helps you the next time fear bubbles up.

Next Steps and Additional Resources

Here at The Musician's Mindset we have some incredible resources for developing and implementing mindset practices that will transform how you perform on stage.

  1. First, check out our Personalized Mindset Tools Quiz to discover the mindset strategies perfect for YOU!

  2. Join the waiting list for my FREE mini-course, How to Stimulate Your Vagus Nerve and Calm the Heck Down.

Katie Frisco

Katie is dedicated to helping musicians overcome stage fright and believe in their own unique artistic voice. She believes live classical music is a powerful antidote for the division, pain, and loneliness pervasive in the culture and strives to support all artists to confidently share their work with the world. She lives in Cincinnati with her husband, three kiddos, a dog, a snake, and a goldfish named Orca.


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