Fear Itself: The Play of Down

A couple of weeks ago – which is like, forever in the world of social media – when Russell Wilson was merely a newbie NFC champion, he asked the advice of four-time “The Big Game” winner Terry Bradshaw.

“What do we do to win the Super Bowl?” Wilson asked while still on the Championship podium.

This was Bradshaw’s spontaneous advice:

“You’ve got to be really cool. Don’t let the moment catch up with you. You’ve got to play the game down. If you build it up, it’s so important you’ll screw it up and you won’t play well. It’s not just another game, believe me, but you can make it one.  Just be cool.”

I heard this sound bite for the first time yesterday, and it went in a mental file I call, “Well, They Oughta Know” that I’ve been cramming with expert advice lately.  Just behind this latest addition to the file is a commercial for the Sochi Olympics featuring Shaun White who says of competing:

“It’s like a combination of complete focus with the slightest bit of not caring. . .”

The polarity of emphasizing one’s performance while de-emphasizing the importance of the performance seems to be a winning combination for many professional athletes, musicians, comedians, dancers, etc.  And of all the plays Russell Wilson learned for yesterday’s game, perhaps “The Downplay” was the most important.

On a much, much smaller scale, and a much, much smaller stage, I have experienced “The Downplay.”  It’s why I don’t tell anyone about an audition until after it’s done.  It’s why I go stealth when there’s a goal I’m trying to reach.  Too much talk about an event, too much enthusiasm, too much buildup can create a monster – however innocent and well-meaning – that swallows me whole.  I believe the technical term is called “psyching yourself out.”

Now, I have been accused once or twice in my life of self-sabotage.  A wise man once told me, “It’s like you look down to see you need a new pair of shoes, and, BAM!  Shoot yourself in the foot.”  He went on to say, “You see on one side of the coin – something bad.  But on the flip side – something else bad.”  You get how these tendencies might lead to the “psyche out.”


‘On the one hand, I might suck. . . On the other hand, they might hate me.’

But today, when I look at the expression “psyching yourself out,” I am actually encouraged.  Because, if on one side of the coin, I can psych myself out, then on the flip side, it means I am capable of psyching myself in.  And in dealing with stage fright, feeling any amount of authority over scary circumstances is a victory.

On the “Conquering Stage Fright” page of ADAA’s website, tips two through four all deal with thoughts:

  • Stop scaring yourself with thoughts about what might go wrong. Instead, focus your attention on thoughts and images that are calming and reassuring.
  • Refuse to think thoughts that create self-doubt and low confidence.
  • Practice ways to calm and relax your mind and body, such as deep breathing, relaxation exercises, yoga, and meditation.

In other words, “Just be cool.”  It worked for Terry, it worked for Russell, and I believe it can work for us all.

– Anita, Noted in Nashville

*This is post two of my “Fear Itself” Series.  Read post one, “My Journey to Overcome Stage Fright” here.


Conquering Stage Fright:  Anxiety and Depression Association of America.  Retrieved February 3, 2014, from: http://www.adaa.org/understanding-anxiety/social-anxiety-disorder/treatment/conquering-stage-fright


16 thoughts on “Fear Itself: The Play of Down

  1. “It’s like a combination of complete focus with the slightest bit of not caring. . .”—I LOVE that quote. So simple but there’s so much truth to it. Now, if we can only get ourselves to that point. That’s the hard part. Human nature automatically goes to the “psyche out” part.

    I’ll have to keep those words in my mind, especially as I go through my agent querying process.

      • Wouldn’t that be wild? It’d be awesome to make freshies in the upper glade, then go schuss-booming in champagne powder past the chocolate chips into an avie of dough! (I think I just said something about making a lot of money, but then, I’ve never been skiing so. . .)

  2. I think successful people have that exact attitude–not putting SO MUCH emphasis on success or failure because if you “fail” at something you learn something and you learn what NOT to do the next time. I’m terrified of getting up in front of people too, Anita. I’ve had to do it before and it is SO uncomfortable–speaking in front of people. I try to tell myself–Nothing to fear but fear itself–but try telling my pounding heart that! Ha!

    • I know, right? That heart seems to have a will of its own. GREAT point about learning something from “failures.” I have a hard time making peace with that sometimes. I have a good friend who says, “Experience is what you get when you don’t get what you want.” Whenever I take myself too seriously, that advice comes to mind, and makes me smile.

      It’s so good to see your gravatar, Brigitte. I’m glad you’re feeling better.

  3. Since I’ve been sick, my day is spent psyching myself out. If I wash my hair, I might get sick. If I try and work a bit, something bad might happen, etc. I’ve never been one to make excuses, so I’m trying really hard to navigate this new, awful sense of normal while I try and get out of this rut. You try and ease up and cut yourself some slack, but you get in do deep that it’s tough climbing out.

    • You’re so right. Once the negative and fearful thoughts begin, it takes real effort to get in a good head space again. I’ve heard someone say that it’s not very productive to try to erase a negative thought, instead choose a new, positive one – it doesn’t even have to counter the negative one. For example, ‘I’m scared I’ll suck.’ ‘Boy, I LOVE chips and dip.’ (Or whatever makes you happy. 🙂 )

      I’m sending lots of positive and healthful thoughts your way.

  4. Great post, Anita, and much needed advice for me and Mathair… well, especially me. I have a habit of blowing things up and completely psyching myself out. I’m not to good at anything involving public speaking, so when we had a reading a month ago at a middle school, I almost missed it due to my nerve-induced migraine. I’d spent the whole ride there psyching myself out. Luckily, I got through it and have tried not mentally set myself up for failure. It’s good to find advice like that from such a competitive field like sports and it’s a much needed jolt of competitiveness and positivity for the artistic world. 🙂 Sharing now.

    • It’s funny, I’ve always been reluctant to tell others about my performance anxiety. But so many people seem to relate, and have been generous about sharing their stories. I have never had a migraine, but I have suffered physical illness from the stress of knowing a performance/audition is coming. And I’ve also psyched myself out on the car ride there. Sometimes it’s hard not to jump out! 🙂

      Thank you so much for stopping by, and for sharing!

    • Thank you, Lori, for taking the time to read it. I’ve not only struggled with stage fright, but I’ve struggled with keeping it a secret. I guess I felt that talking about it would make me even more self-conscious. But I’m finding that people are so supportive and helpful.

  5. Pingback: Fear Itself: Awareness, Part I | Noted in Nashville

  6. Pingback: Fear Itself: Awareness, Part II | Noted in Nashville

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