Musical Performance Anxiety

Tale of the Day:

Eliminating Performance Anxiety

“I finished the audition and only when I walked out did I realize: I had no teeth chattering, no sweating, no shaking at all! It was just so crazy. I didn’t expect it at all!”

Let’s rewind back to when I first met Maya. She was a bright high school student who played trombone in a highly-competitive orchestra. She was a great musician, and told me, “The number one thing I care about is music.” Whenever she had to audition or play solo during orchestra practice, she got intense performance anxiety. She started sweating, shaking, and her teeth would chatter—not at all helpful when playing a brass instrument!

She was about to graduate and apply to music schools, where the pressure to perform and audition well would matter a lot. Understandably she wanted this solved.

Since she lived in another state, I met with Maya over Skype. During our first meeting I showed her the spinning feelings process. This got a great result for her. “This is like sorcery!” she said. But at our next meeting she told me, “When I had to solo twelve bars in orchestra practice, I couldn’t calm down quick enough. I can’t meditate for an hour before that type of situation; I need a quicker way.”

Though the spinning feelings process can be done quite quickly, in just a few minutes, I understood how it might be tough for her to focus while surrounded by people in the middle of a class. I asked her when the anxiety first started in the day. She said, “It’s here when I first wake up,” and she gestured to her sternum.

I decided to do some parts work with her. I told her the story from World War II about how Japanese soldiers were left on many different islands in the Pacific and told to defend the country no matter what. Isolated and cut off from their command, many of these soldiers continued to defend these islands long after the war was over. Now and then one would be found when he shot at a passing fishing boat. The last soldier was found some 18 years after the war had ended. All that time he had managed to survive, alone and isolated, while continuing to loyally fight to defend the safety of his country. The Japanese government could have laughed at him when they found him for continuing to fight when the war was over, but instead they thanked him for his loyal service, brought him home, held a ceremony in his honor. Only then did they begin to gently tell the soldier that the war was over, and he could now serve the country in other ways.

I told Maya, “We all have parts of ourselves that are like these Japanese soldiers, still fighting loyally on to protect us from a war that is long since over. And so we have an opportunity to thank them for their service and invite them back home.”

Maya gestured to her sternum again, where the anxiety had been, “Now it’s like there’s a plane there,” she said. “And it’s like there are tiny little Thors [Norse God of Thunder] getting off the plane. They started out one color, and as they got of the plane they turned to different colors: green, yellow, orange, red. It’s like all these tiny little Thors have new jobs.”

Well I hadn’t even started the parts work I had planned, and all this was already happening spontaneously. This is a testament to the power of telling stories. I could have simply communicated the conclusion of the story: “In NLP we have a presupposition that all parts of us create behaviors for some positive purpose, even if the behavior (anxiety) is causing us major problems.” If I had done this, it would have taken less time, but it would have only spoken to her conscious mind. Telling the story gave her an experience of the truth of the statement.

“There is clearly some nice shifting going on, and so you can already appreciate that, and be curious how the new jobs of these tiny Thors will benefit you,” I said. It would have been interesting just to leave it at this, and see what happened just from telling her the story. I gave her the option: “We could leave it at this for now, with the tiny Thors with their new jobs, that may be all that’s needed for this session. Or if you want to do more, we can explore something in addition to what’s already happened.”

“Let’s explore,” she said.

“Up until now [presupposition that it can be different in the future] you’ve had a part of you that has generated anxiety, and you’ve had another part of you that doesn’t want to be anxious, haven’t you.”


“So you can notice, in your body or around you, the part of you that up until now has generated anxiety, and you can invite it out into one of your hands. This part of you will know which is the hand that it wants to be in.”

Maya nodded, “It’s like Thor, coming into my right hand.”

“Great. Thank this Thor part for coming into your right hand. From what you said before, this part may have already found lots of great new jobs to do. Or maybe those were other Thor parts that found new jobs, and this one still wants new and better ways of getting what it wants for you. Either way is fine and you don’t even need to know consciously which it is. Just thank this Thor part for being here.”

She closed her eyes and nodded.

I said, “Now you can also notice the part of you that doesn’t want to be anxious, and you can invite this part of you to come into your other hand. ”

She said, “It’s like Loki [Norse trickster god].”

“Great, now we are going to find out what each of these parts really wants for you. Turn to your right hand and thank Thor for being there, and ask him, ‘What do you want?’ Then relax and notice what he responds with.

She nodded and closed her eyes, then said, “Thor wants me to do the right thing, all the time.”

“Great. Thank him for this response, and invite him to step into what it’s like to already have you doing the right thing, all the time.”


“Now ask Thor, ‘When I’m doing the right thing all the time, what does this get for me that’s even more important?’ ”

“Peace of mind,” she answered.

“Thank this Thor part of you for this response, and now ask him, ‘When I have peace of mind, what does that get me that’s even more important?’ ”

“Then I have a clear view of what needs to happen.”

“Great, so what this part really wants for you, is for you to have a clear view of what needs to happen. Is this something you also agree is worth having?”

“Yes, totally.”

“Great. Now turn to the Loki part in your left hand, and ask Loki, ‘What do you want?’ ”

Maya turned to her left hand and closed her eyes. When she opened her eyes again, she said, “Loki wants me to just speak my mind, and other people can just suck it!”

“Great!” I said, “Now thank Loki for this response, and ask Loki, ‘When I speak my mind, and other people can just suck it, what does this get for me that’s even more important?’ ”

“It earns me confidence.”

“Ok, great. Thank Loki for this response. So what Loki really wants for you, is to earn you confidence. Is confidence something that you also agree is worth having?”

“Of course!”

“Great, now invite Thor and Loki each to have a look over at the other one. Up until now, they have both been struggling with each other, but now we know that what Loki really wants for you is confidence, and what Thor really wants for you is a clear view of what needs to happen. Ask Thor if confidence will also help him with what he wants: having a clear view of what needs to happen.”

“Yeah, it does.”

“Great. Now ask Loki if having a clear view of what needs to happen is in support of the confidence that Loki wants.”


“So by working together, Loki and Thor can each get what they want for you much more easily. Go ahead and allow your hands to come together only as fast as Loki and Thor learn how to work together to support each other in getting what both want for you.”

“Yeah…” She kept her eyes closed for a while, clearly processing. When she opened her eyes she said, “Thor and Loki turned into Sherlock and Watson! It’s like they’re working together now, untying knots. Like solving the puzzles.”

“Wow, wonderful! Now go ahead and bring Sherlock and Watson into your body, so that they can integrate and become a natural part of you, working together in this new way.”

She did so.

Then I said, “Now, mentally step into a past situation where you used to have performance anxiety, and notice how it goes now, with this new way of being?”

“Now it’s just no big deal,” she said.

I then asked her to step into a future example, and she also said of that: “It’s no big deal.”

“Now,” I said, “It’s likely that some echoes of the old anxiety will happen in the future, but that they will become less frequent and less intense. If something comes back more intense, it’s just a sign that you have another part that also wants something positive for you, and also wants to be included.”

Before ending the session, Maya agreed she would continue to do the spinning feelings process at night when she went to bed, to help her relax for sleep (which she often struggled with, staying up really late).

The third time we met, Maya said the spinning feelings helped her go to sleep easily at night. “When I came back home from work I just went right to sleep,” she said, which was very different from her prior pattern of staying up late before managing to fall asleep.

As far as the performance anxiety, she hadn’t yet had any more auditions or solo performances, so we still didn’t have a real-world test of the work we’d done last session. Because of this, we focused on some other goals of hers. One thing she wanted was a solution to her headaches. She told me she sometimes got headaches that commonly lasted around three hours, making her feel numb, numbing her left hand, and causing her to temporarily lose vision in her left eye. I taught her the rewinding process to try for her headaches, telling her how much it had helped me with my Athsma-like condition that the doctors hadn’t been able to diagnose.

The fourth time I met with Maya was a week before a big audition for a local youth symphony. To test the previous work we had done, I asked her to close her eyes and imagine waking up on the morning of the audition. “Now just play through the day and find out how it goes.”

“It was like I was just practicing,” Maya said.

“Great. I know that you play beautifully when you practice, so if it can be like that, that sounds like a good thing to me.” To be thorough and find if there were any additional resources that would help her, I got even more specific, “Do you know where the audition will take place?”


“Great, do you know the room?”


“Great, now close your eyes and imagine going through this whole week, waking up on audition day and going to the place where it will be held and finding the room. Now, as you walk through the door, how does it feel?”

When she opened her eyes she said, “One fourth great, one fourth real, one fourth I don’t know, and one fourth get me out.”

We did Core Transformation with this remaining “get me out” fourth, and concluded the session.

When I met with Maya the fifth time, she was really excited to tell me what had happened the previous week: “Ok,” She said. “I have a lot to tell you. So when I went to my audition, first off I had the audition at 8:42, but I arrived at 8:00am. When I got there, my headache started, so I’m like, Seriously? Is this really happening right now? Anyway I did the rewinding thing you taught me, and it totally improved it, and the headache went away completely after about 45 minutes rather than the usual around 3 hours!”

“So anyway,” Maya continued, “not long after I did the rewinding I was called for my audition. For some reason they called me like 15 minutes earlier than my scheduled time! Normally I would have protested this, but I just went with it. Then on top of this unexpected timing, the judge was pretty grumpy, and I still had a little of the headache happening. Anyway, I finished the audition and only when I walked out did I realize: I had no teeth chattering, no sweating, no shaking at all! It was just so crazy. I didn’t expect it at all!”

We met a few more times after this, working on some other goals of hers. Since then I’ve tried to get long-term feedback on her experience with auditions and playing solo, but so far I haven’t heard back from her.


Tool of the Day:
Parts Integration (See the book Heart of the Mind for an in-depth version of this process):

  1. When you find yourself wanting something that you don’t yet have (especially if it’s a bit extreme), often there will be another part that wants the opposite. For example: a part that wants to exercise all the time, and a part that wants to be lazy and lie around all day; a part that wants to eat all raw, organic, grass-fed, omega-3 foods, and a part that wants to pig out on Doritos, soda, and pizza hut; a part that wants to be polite and friendly, and a part that just wants to say screw you; a part that feels anxious, and a part that wants to be calm.
  2. Notice where you feel each part, in your body or around you. Thank each of these parts for being here, because you can trust that they each have something positive they want for you.
  3. Open your hands, palms upward, and invite one part to flow into one hand, and the other part to flow into the other hand. It doesn’t matter which part is in which hand, though each will tend to go to the hand that feels right for it.
  4. Now start with one part and ask it, “What do you want?” Then relax, close your eyes, and notice what response comes back from that part. Thank it for this response, and ask it, “And when you get what you want, what does this get for me that’s even more important?” Thank it for this response, and continue this cycle until the part arrives at a value (such as happiness, peace, health, integrity) that is something you can agree on, and that the other part is likely to also agree is a good thing. (Hint: the longer you do this cycle, the more likely it will be that you arrive at a value that is also appreciated by yourself and the other part, so when in doubt, keep going.)
  5. Repeat step 4 with the other part in the other hand.
  6. Now invite each part to look over at the other part. Ask each part if it recognizes the value in what the other part is really wanting to get for you. If you have gone to a deep enough (or high enough) value, each part will recognize that the value of the other part is also a good thing, and not in conflict with it’s own value.
  7. Say to the parts, “Now that you both see and recognize what each of you are really trying to get, and you both agree that both of these values are worth having, how would you like to work together in mutual support of achieving these values?
  8. If the answer is “no,” first satisfy the objection, or look back at what might have been missed in a previous step. If the answer is “yes” (which it usually is), invite both of your hands to come together only as quickly as these two parts of yourself learn to work together in new ways—many of them unconscious to you—to achieve both values.
  9. Once your hands come together, bring them into your body wherever feels right, usually the heart or chest area, so these cooperating parts can integrate back in with you.
  10. Test back in the initial scenario and find out how it goes now, with the cooperating parts within you. If it goes well, great! If not, address any concerns or objections until it goes well.
  11. Step into future situations, noticing what is changed for you now that these parts are working together in this new way.

Sign up for a session with Mark at or call 303-810-9611 for a free 15-minute consult.

No Comments

Post A Comment