Welcome to a lesson in how to exploit our practical knowledge of working memory in order to help tame the stage fright beast.
Recall from How Your Brain Works: Memory Fundamentals that your working memory, also called short-term memory, is like a cup with very limited capacity… nominally the size of a seven digit phone number.
This limited capacity is a classic bad news, good news situation. The bad news is that filling your working memory with a seven digit phone number worth of negative thoughts will crowd out all positive thoughts, but the good news is that filling your working memory with a seven-digit phone number worth of positive thoughts will crowd out ALL negative thoughts.
In other words, when you direct your attention to the right things, all the wrong things (those thoughts or behaviors that can derail your performance) automatically disappear from your consciousness without you having to try. (Not to mention the added bonus of getting your stream of consciousness flowing in the right direction, too!).
And so, an essential practice is to begin each musical encounter, whether in practice or performance, with a positive affirmation appropriate to the occasion… something that can quickly put you in the right frame of mind and heart… something short and sweet that you can verbalize internally or at a whisper before your start to play… something “smile”, “have fun!”, “celebration”, “gratitude”… to name but a few.
By the way, this practice is not just some clever technique; it is a fundamental and enduring change of attitude toward life.
Got it? Good.