Your New Strategy for Beating Stage Fright

San Francisco Ballet dancers backstage at Swan Lake. Photo by Erik Tomasson, via SFB.

From time to time, every dancer gets nervous before performing, no matter how well-prepared they are or how much they try to calm their nerves. And although stage fright can give you a useful adrenaline boost, if it becomes too extreme, it can get in the way of your performance.

While it can be helpful to encourage yourself with positive thoughts, a series of studies on self-talk published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology argues that how you address yourself in these moments plays a big role in the outcome. Researchers found that calling yourself by name, instead of using pronouns like "I," could significantly reduce anxiety and improve performance. (For instance, statements like "You can do it, Jen" may be more helpful than "I can do this.")

In one study, people who called themselves by name when thinking about a stressful task they had to do were not only more confident beforehand, but they also performed better when it was time to do what made them nervous. Those who used "I" tended to feel more anxious, and were more likely to think the task was impossible.

It may sound silly, but calling yourself by name may give you some distance from your own situation and all the emotions wrapped up in it. The simple switch could mean the difference between stumbling or sailing through your fouettés.

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Updated on 5/21/2020

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