It was years ago, but to this day I can still recall every detail of how utterly terrified I felt when they called my name on stage. For the first time in my life, I was about to sing in front of a live audience, alone with my guitar. The loudness of the microphone made me flinch when I timidly whispered “Uh, hi?”
I asked for a chair because I didn’t want anyone to see my legs shake. I could feel the fear coursing through my veins, and I remember taking a deep breath, closing my eyes, and starting my first song. I kept telling myself: “Just get to the end of the song, then you’ll be OK.”
But it didn’t go the way I’d hoped it would. Not even close.
After the chorus, there’s a bit where I usually whistle, and I hadn’t noticed that my mouth was completely dry from the anxiety. Instead of a clear whistle, the audience heard a very loud: pfffffffft. I could hear someone muffle a laugh.
The absolute worse-case scenario had just happened: I was on stage, in the spotlight, in front of an audience, and people were making fun of me.
I wished I could disappear.
Worst of all, it wasn’t over. I was only halfway through the song. The second chorus was coming up and I was supposed to whistle again. My mind was racing. I didn’t know what to do. I had to make a decision before I got to the whistling bit a second time. Should I cut the song short? Should I try to whistle again? What if I went for it and the same scenario happened? What would they think of me?
Then it hit me: I’d already gone through the worst-case scenario. I couldn’t experience anything worse than what had already happened—getting laughed at on stage. The only direction from here was up.
My whole mindset changed.
I opened my eyes, my shoulders relaxed, my breathing slowed, and I started to enjoy the experience. For the first time, I felt good. It wasn’t so serious anymore—it felt more like play. So, when the last verse ended, I made sure to lick my lips and heard a lovely whistle come out of my mouth. I felt amazing and was noticeably more relaxed for the next song. More importantly, the realization of what had happened was transformational.
The humiliation did sting at first, but it was a far cry from what I’d imagined it would be. The pain dampened quickly and gave way to a feeling of freedom. Nothing could stop me now. I wasn’t scared of messing up anymore. My relationship to fear had changed.
And here’s the honest truth: Most of us hold ourselves back due to a fear of failure or ridicule.
- Fear will convince you not to talk to the cute person at the bar.
- Fear will keep you from learning a new skill.
- Fear will trick you into discarding your dreams.
- Fear will make you postpone the meaningful.
- Fear will find ways out of responsibilities.
- Fear will lock you into a maze of eternal to-dos.
- Fear will seduce you into taking the easy way out.
- Fear will hold you prisoner.
So, how can you learn to overcome it?
Ever since I experienced that whistling mishap, when I try something new or scary, I start by identifying the worst-case scenarios to I see if I can provoke one as soon as possible. Then, I actively look for the feeling of freedom that comes right after, the feeling that creates an environment that allows for huge leaps in the learning process. I continually see amazing results with this very simple—yet slightly scary—trick.
And not only for myself. I teach guitar for beginners, and I make every single one of my students confront his or her biggest fear on the first day of the course.
After learning a simple tune on his guitar, each student has to write his own lyrics (or borrow some), film himself playing (and singing) the song he just created, and send me that video. All of this on day one of a three-month course. It doesn’t take long, everyone can do it (and has), but it will definitely make you feel uncomfortable.
This changes everything. I ask my students to feel ridiculous so that they can forget about feeling ridiculous. Once they’ve purposefully made themselves uncomfortable, they’ve given themselves permission to make mistakes without feeling bad.
In other words, they’re free to play without consequences.
So What About You?
Has something similar ever happened to you? A situation where you experienced a worse-case scenario and came out of it feeling energized?
If you currently feel held back by fear in your life, take a minute now to think about how you could provoke an uncomfortable situation in order to get over the barrier and set yourself free.
Here are a two (general) examples for inspiration:
Are you constantly afraid of stepping out of your comfort zone? Noah Kagan recommends you go to your favorite coffee shop and ask for a 10% discount on a cup of coffee. (I know this actually sounds crazy, but please trust me on this—you will feel the results immediately.)
Are you scared of speaking in public or want to feel more confident in group settings? Go to an improv class, it could change your life (Trust me: I’ve been going to improv classes for months now, and it’s been an incredible experience).
Isn’t it time you confronted your fear?
This article was originally published on About the Start. It has been republished here with permission.