Team Up with Your Shadow to Defeat Performance Anxiety and Find the Power of True Self-Expression

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Many musicians, public speakers, actors and other performers struggle with performance anxiety. In this post (Week 30 of the Creativity Challenge) I would like to share a very useful technique for managing this common fear. Used correctly, this technique will help us overcome the fear of the judgement of others and express ourselves freely in performance.

This technique comes from Stutz and Michaels’ excellent book The Tools. I highly recommend this great book, which contains easily understandable explanations of the 5 “Tools” developed by the authors to help us overcome fear, pain, anger, procrastination and transform our lives.

The Tool I will discuss today is called “Inner Authority” by the authors. This tool is designed to help us overcome performance anxiety and fear of the judgement of others. To use this tool we will learn how to find, team up and perform with our shadow.

What is our shadow?

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The shadow” is a term coined by grandfather of psychology Carl Jung to describe the hidden, unconscious aspects of ourselves.

We are not born with a shadow. When we are young children, we play freely. If happy we laugh, if sad we cry. If we hear a song in our minds we sing and if the mood strikes us we dance. Children are all self-expressive artists by nature.

However, as we get older, adults start telling us “Don’t do this, don’t say that, be this, don’t be this, and on and on. As we are instructed how to behave by our family, teachers and others, we start feeling shame for certain things inside us that we no longer feel comfortable to express, and we begin hiding part of our true selves from the world.

We hide that part of ourselves that we no longer feel comfortable expressing in a dark corner of our mind. At first we hide those things from the rest of the world, and eventually we forget about them and hide those things from ourselves. These hidden parts of us become a distinct sub-personality, a personification of everything about ourselves we are unconsciously ashamed of. This is our shadow.

However, our shadow contains some of our most important expressive potential. While our parents might not have wanted us to sing during the preacher’s sermon and our teachers didn’t want us to dance during nap time, that is exactly the freedom we need to feel to be fully expressive artists.

As artists, to truly express ourselves authentically and in a meaningful way, we must express ourselves completely, without holding anything back. As I described in my article about Sumi Jo, a great artist gives everything of themself to the audience- the good things and the vulnerabilities. Audiences want the real thing from a great performer, not just soulless perfection. Perfection does not exist. Instead we want authenticity from our artists.

If we hide our shadow from ourselves and the audience, we do not give an authentic self to the performance. It’s as if we say to the audience, “Ok, I am here and I want to give you everything of myself, except for 10% which I am going to hide from you.” This doesn’t work. Even hiding 1% of ourselves from the performance breaks the circuit of the energy of self-expression and greatly reduces our artistic potential.

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In order to truly express ourselves we must find, accept and make friends with our shadow. We need the shadow to complete the energetic circuit, and in addition our shadow contains some of our most pure and valuable artistic instincts. Our shadow is exactly the part of us that is capable of capturing the imagination and soul of our audience.

The Tool “Inner Authority” is about finding and making a relationship with our shadow and teaming up with it to complete our artistic selves. It is about accepting ourselves as who we are today and expressing the reality of who we are to the audience without fear of judgement.

Here’s my instructions of how to use the tool. For more complete explanation please read the book.

Step One: Learn how to bring up and see your shadow.

Take a comfortable seat or lie down. Close your eyes. Relax your body and mind and take some deep breaths. Then focus your mind on a situation where you feel fear of the negative judgement of others. Bring as much of that fear up to the surface as you can. Feel the fear fully, and then with your mind push the fear out in front of you into a cloud, as thick and full as you can, and make sure the cloud feels like it’s located outside of you.

Now, with your mind, look at the cloud. Does it have a face or a body? Many people are surprised at how distinctly they can see their shadow right away on the first try.

For me my shadow is an image of a scared skinny kid version of myself around the age of 11 or 12. This is a typical shadow, as for many early adolescence is when we really start to develop shameful feelings. The pimply, overweight kid with glasses is the stereotypical shadow, but some people see stranger things like cockroaches or aliens. It doesn’t really matter what your shadow looks like to use this technique, but you want to get good at summoning your shadow for this technique to be useful in performance situations.

If you can’t see your shadow right away don’t worry. Just try this technique several times and see if the image begins to develop. Maybe your picture will be hazy and indistinct at first but it will develop over time into something clearer.

Stutz and Michaels say that even if you can’t see your shadow it is still possible to use the technique. Just make sure you can feel its presence nearby.

Step Two: Team up and make friends with your shadow.

Now that you can see your shadow, try to make friends with it. Your shadow is scared and very self conscious, as we have unconsciously withheld our love and acceptance of it for a long time. It is quite a healing experience to consciously decide to accept and be friends with the part of ourselves that we are ashamed of.

Give your shadow a high 5 or a hug. Tell your shadow you are happy to see it and that you are a team working together from now on. Finally you are a complete person and ready for full self-expression.

Step Three: Turn and address the audience together with your shadow.

Now that your are teamed up with your shadow it’s time to address the audience. At first in practice situations the audience will be imaginary. Imagine an audience that you are uncomfortable and insecure playing for. Then mentally turn to the audience and say, “OK everyone, here I am, all of me, good and bad. I have nothing to hide from you. Now I will play for you, and I want you to listen.”

Step Four: Perform together side-by-side with your shadow and enjoy the experience of complete self expression.

Keep the feeling of your shadow nearby, especially if fear begins to return.

That’s all there is. It’s a simple technique, but amazingly effective. I use the Inner Authority technique when I am onstage with the orchestra and have a scary solo or some other moment when I start feeling the fear of judgement by the audience or colleagues. Now that I have practiced it and can do it quickly, it is amazing how quickly my fear disappears and is replaced by the energy of musical self-expression.

Here is a guided visualization I made of this process (Week 31 of the Creativity Challenge) if you would like to be guided through the process:

Of course this technique must be practiced many times before the most important auditions or concerts. But, once practiced it is easy to do. Anytime we feel the fear of the judgement of others is an opportunity to make better teammates with our shadow.

The benefits of this technique go beyond mere performance success. For me, when I started teaming up with my shadow it was the first time in many years that I made a conscious decision to accept and value 100% of myself. That accompanying feeling of self-acceptance is one of the greatest reliefs we can feel in our lives. I hope this technique can serve you and many others to move towards more artistic honesty, daring, and love and make the world a better place in the process, one person at a time.

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