If you were watching the 2003 NBA Playoffs between the Trail Blazers and the Mavericks, you might remember an incident that occurred during the singing of the national anthem. Thirteen-year-old Natalie Gilbert, who was singing before a packed stadium as well as millions of television viewers, forgot the words to “The Star Spangled Banner” and froze. Fortunately, Mo Cheeks, the coach of the Trail Blazers, rushed to the girl’s aid, filling in the words and finishing the song with her. They received a standing ovation at the end of the performance.
Natalie was clearly suffering from performance anxiety. She must, at one time, have known the words to the song, but she was so anxious that she forgot them when everyone was watching. Performance anxious individuals are typically very concerned about what others think of them and they often have very low opinions of their own skills. They then project these opinions onto the audience, assuming that these people will also find their performance deficient. Individuals with performance anxiety also often fantasize that they can make the audience love them by delivering a perfect performance. Their desire to live up to this impossible expectation adds to their anxiety and makes it even more likely that they will freeze up, as did Natalie Gilbert when she forgot the words to the national anthem.
Fortunately, it is possible for individuals with performance anxiety to have their own Mo Cheeks, a coach that helps them overcome their fear and perform to the best of their ability. At first, a therapist makes the perfect coach. By analyzing a person’s fears and getting to the root of their attitudes, a therapist can help that person change the way that they think and ultimately overcome their anxiety. For example, a person who is afraid to speak publicly or share personal ideas may have been criticized by her parents as a child for not having original thoughts. She may have internalized this criticism and it could be creating these problems for her as an adult. By using her therapist as a coach and cheerleader of sorts, she could eventually come to realize that most people are not as critical as her parents were and that she does have interesting and original thoughts that are worth expressing.
Once people come to realize that their fears are irrationally based on feelings of self-doubt, they can begin to conquer their anxiety. Ultimately, each of these individuals should become their own Mo Cheeks, talking themselves through difficult situations in their own heads with a positive attitude and reasonable expectations.