As everyone is busy framing and preparing work to be put on view at our open studios, performance anxiety might be rearing it’s ugly head.

I hesitate to equate our process with “performance”, because it is really never about that, but it does come into play.

Our opening exercise are often designed to get over the “hump” of performance pressures. But finding ways to practice techniques on your own so you don’t get too “screwed into” an intention or an expectation is a good thing. Psychologists have written much about this, but a recent publication is discussed below in a heavily edited excerpt from Robert Genn’s recent blog. (The full post can be read at )

Anyone can choke, but the more experienced you are the more likely it is.  The more time you have to think, the more likely you are to choke. Quick, intuitive thinkers don’t choke as often.

Sian Beilock, a University of Chicago psychologist, says it has to do with roadblocks in the brain.

Singing helps. It distracts the “analysis paralysis” that comes from knowing too much. Humming is like a mantra; it calms the brain. In Beilock’s research, people who meditate choke less.

Pressure to perform, persistent worries, a guilty conscience and general nervousness are all causes of choking. Further, the mere act of trying to increase your control over something can backfire, disrupting what can be a fluid performance.

Pressurized situations apparently deplete that area of your brain (prefrontal cortex) that contains what psychologists call “working memory,” a sort of mental scratch pad and info storage area. With stuff temporarily erased or obscured, it’s hard to get it back when you need it.

Another choker Beilock identifies is “stereotype threat.” Example- when someone thinks they can’t do something because of age, gender, race, etc, they often can’t. It has nothing to do with their natural ability, and all to do with their beliefs. Art students who know in their heart they can never do as well as their classmates or instructors, for whatever reason, won’t.

“Highly practiced putts  (golf reference) run better when you don’t try to control every aspect of performance.” (Sian Beilock, from Choke: What the Secrets of the Brain Reveal About Getting it Right When You Have To )

Esoterica: Our brains are also in the business of sabotage. Practice tends to stymie sabotage. “Think about the journey, not the outcome,” says Beilock. Where have we heard that before?

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