Throughout coaching, counselling and therapy, goal setting is a fundamental tool and a consistent thread connecting us to either success or failure. In spite of its importance, most attempts at goal setting tend to fall short of what they are intended to do. If goals are so hard to achieve, is it reasonable to conclude that goal setting is a waste of time?

After years of working within this area, I would have to say my answer is both yes and no. I have to be very careful here not to blame the victim, because in reality, the rate of one’s failure and success is, by its own nature, neither a natural born fault nor a natural born ability. Like so many other things in our life, developing new skills need careful planning and practice.

The Long and Winding Road
Right from the start, there are often a number of overlooked conditions that get in the way of our personal success. First, and at its very best, we tend to focus on outcome goals without fully realizing that we have little to no control over what will happen in the future. For example, a sales executive may have the goal to become her company’s top sales person. However, as years come and go she remains only second best. What went wrong? Despite her superior effort, best practices and possibly outside support, she could not control or change the behavior of the other sales reps – they simply out performed her year after year. Her focus on the outcome goal was certainly an essential component toward realizing her dream; however she over focused on this particular aspect overshadowing the more important processes goals she needed to achieve her goal.
Outcome goals and performance goals are often in conflict with each other. So too are the goals we set in all parts of our life. Conflicting goals get in the way of our success. Take for example a life constructed in four parts or quadrants. We can name one quadrant ‘personal development’ another quadrant ‘significant others’ the third ‘work and education’ finally the fourth quadrant ‘community involvement’. In each quadrant various types of goals are set up.

Now let’s say that within the ‘significant others quadrant’ there are the goals of spending more quiet times with a partner, going out on more family walks, taking time together to plan and prepare meals, etc. However, and at the same time, in the ‘work and education quadrant’ the following goals are set: ‘more meeting time with potential clients’, ‘checking supply and delivery channels’, attending more professional development seminars’, ‘increase site and facility visits’.

Get the point – the goals listed in ‘significant others’ is clearly at odds with the goals of work and education’. Opposition such as this will result in a zero success rate unless the goals within one quadrant are entirely perused at the expense of the goals located within the other. – OUT OF BALANCE – the success rate of the desired outcome is low to none existent; the desired outcome will not be achieved and the incongruency between goals will most certainly be discomforting.

The subconscious mind is a rich, deep and diverse collection of beliefs, memories, images and impulses that underpin and influence our behavior, perception and interpretation of events. It tends to be emotionally charged and it drives the moods we feel. It invisibly moves us to interpret and discriminate, draw conclusions and to choose one action or feeling over another. When we access the subconscious level we are not restricted by time – we can see things in the present moment just as easily as we can see the past while simultaneously look out into the future. The subconscious is also neutral in its presentation. It generally does not prefer one interpretation, choice or action over another. For these reasons it is a very rich and fertile site where we can pick and choose the best options that cultivate and grow better solutions.

What we call “the subconscious” contains two parts. The first, known as the preconscious is where shorter term memories are kept. Like a vast warehouse, the preconscious provides the conscious mind with the tools it needs to do things automatically. The preconscious mind is free flowing and creative. The deeper part, known as the “Unconscious” is where long term deep memories are stored where lessons from beliefs and behaviors are kept. The subconscious is fully operative underneath our conscious mind. The conscious mind is analytical, critical and practical. It can be stubborn and insistent that the individual act and respond in certain ways and by certain scripts.

If you suspect you are encountering stage anxiety there are two things you should know: First, you are not alone. Here is a short list of some of the many famous performers whose lives and careers have been touched by this particular inconvenience: Adele, David Duchovny, Jonas Kaufmann, Lady Gaga, Rhianna, Barbara Streisand, Johnny Depp, Andrea Bocelli, Lorde, Maria Callas, Rod Stewart, Vladimir Horowitz, Glenn Gould, Ella Fitzgerald , Luciano Pavarotti, Mel Gibson and the list goes on. Secondly, it is important to know that even though stage anxiety has been a problem for countless performers and artists each one has gone on to find ways to successfully decrease, manage and even eliminate it from their life and work.

Where does this idea come from?
There are many theories on the origin of stage fright ranging from it being a symptom of shyness to it being a construct of deep psychological issues and imbalances. The notion that humans are gifted yet plagued by the “fight flight or freeze” reaction is first of all associated with evolutionary biology and the idea that our early ancestors relied on natural reactions to save themselves from imminent danger; a process that set off their sympathetic nervous system to mobilizes their body to either “take flight” or “stand and fight”. In later years psychology added the notion of a totally disabling freeze response to explain why some individuals, when faced by extreme fear, danger and trauma would shut down completely as to “completely freeze in their tracks”. The Oxford dictionary traces the first popular use of the words “stage fright” to 1876 in the writing of Mark Twain: Adventures of Tom Sawyer.

Is it Normal?
In general, anxiety is a normal reaction to stress, and more often than not it is a good thing. It motivates you to accomplish tasks and get things done, it warns you when you’re in a danger and informs you when to be attentive and vigilant. However, highly intense, excessive and debilitating anxiety; the type of stress you cannot turn off, will lead to complex emotional, psychological and physical problems.

What Happens in Performance Anxiety?
It manifests at moments when you are focusing more on yourself and / or worrying about an upcoming performance. It may appear suddenly without any apparent trigger or reason or it may be very structured and increase through an obvious and deliberate pattern. Performance anxiety can happen in a moment and at any point in your performance, it can happen only one time, it can intermittently return, it may return continuously; it can happen even when you away from the stage; at its worst it can develop into a full time obsession. Performance anxiety is a state of mind (and body) where you begin to think and react to the performance situation as a threat and it becomes an impediment to your work.

It has three parts: 1. A somatic reaction; a physical response such as your breathing becomes rapid and shallow, your heart pounds and blood pressure rises, your muscles get tight, cold, clammy hands etc. etc. 2. A cognitive reaction: where a mental response to the situation conjures and floods your head with negative thoughts, self-doubt, worries of failure and mistakes and an overall loss of focus and control 3. An affective reaction or emotional response to the situation that bring on feelings of fear, panic, and apprehension. Most often, one goes through an extended periods of discomfort. This however, this will be different from person to person as each one of us have our own particular cognitive and affective responses. In short, how one person reacts psychologically and responds emotionally will be completely different than what another experiences. This personal difference can complicate the initial diagnosis and makes treatment highly individualized. Some Examples of somatic (physical) reactions:nervousness before or during a performance,sense of paralysis,dizziness, diarrhea,vomiting, Examples of extreme cognitive reactions: the audience is conspiring against me, no matter what I do something is rigged to fail, I am cursed, Examples of extreme affective reactions: isolation, substance dependence and abuse, depression, irrational behavior,uncontrolled emotional outbursts.

What are the Consequences?
At its worst, performance anxiety can cause very talented and gifted artists to retire their career, however this likelihood is rare. Many have put their careers on hold (some for decades) to deal with anxiety. On the other hand, many keep on and find ways to cope accepting such distress as part of the job. Usually one finds support and help after an extended period time, when they can’t take it any more or it has spiraled out of control and close to ruining their career; most often people find help after deciding the things they are doing are not really fixing the problem.

How does Recovery and Healing Work?
It is essential to take a pro-active break from the cycle of practice, travel and performance. During this break you may want to look for support, take some time to review and articulate what exactly is going on and start learning and practicing relaxation techniques; things that will, at the very least, offer you some perspective and start you towards a change. At some point, you will have to decide about either getting professional help or going it alone with self- help. Once again, people react to anxiety in different ways and so too they cope in different ways – all of this is case-by-case and symptom-by-symptom and no two people are the same. In some cases self- help books, YouTube videos and whatever else one can cobble together will work, while for other cases a more directed relaxation practice may help, and others may need a personal coach and in some cases counselling or even therapy.

Some Simple Techniques to Practice
Be Prepared: It gives you something to offer others
Harness it: Tension in small portions can help lift you to your best
Take action:It moves you to a different place and gives you some control
Focus on your material and work: What you focus on manifests in the present moment
Breathe deeply, visualize, meditate: Relaxation replaces fear
Practice Mindfulness: It keeps you in the present and not focused on the past or future
Carry an amulet: Use it to absorb nervous energy and to focus on relaxed energy
Have a ritual: It gives you a place to start, a pattern to follow a place to hold as your own
Honor your time on stage: It’s communion with others and all about sharing your best.