“How to Overcome Stage Fright” by David Bolton

This was another free book available through Kindle Unlimited, and it definitely read like a free book. It was far better than the previous book I reviewed, but there were many sections that were written in an unprofessional manner. My biggest complaint with the book is that the author, on a few occasions, makes inappropriate sexual comments. I understand that Bolton is using these “sexual” examples to make a point about how the human mind works, but it comes across as inappropriate, and I feel that he loses some credibility, especially from me, due to these comments.

One in particular that I had a problem with concerns an exchange that he writes about between he and one of his students. During this instance, Bolton is trying to get this particular student to overcome “stage fright” by imagining herself playing a flawless recital. The student has trouble with this and basically says that the scenario is too far-fetched for her to imagine. She couldn’t possibly imagine herself playing a flawless recital, because she believes that it would never happen. Bolton then responds in this manner: “I proceeded to ask her if she ever had any sexual fantasies.” Now, again, I understand what he is doing. A sexual fantasy is something that is normally not realistic, and a majority of people have them; however, I don’t think I would ever blatantly ask one of my students this question. If I were ever asked this during a lesson, I don’t know if I would go back. It’s just not professional and it’s very inappropriate, especially when you’re in a situation involving a man and a woman. There could be a lot of legal ramifications that accompany that sort of questioning.

Aside from the unprofessional nature of the writing and certain content, Bolton does leave us with some interesting things to discuss. First off, he devotes a couple of chapters to the topic of hypnosis. I am a skeptic by nature, so hypnosis has always seemed like a gimmick to me. When I think of hypnosis, I see this image of a guy waving a pocket watch back and forth in front of the subject’s eyes, speaking in this monotone voice, telling this person that they’re getting sleepy, and the person eventually falls asleep. The hypnotist says/does what they need to do while the subject is asleep, they snap their fingers, the person wakes up, and they are magically cured. It seemed contrived and too good to be true. To be completely honest, I did actually consider using hypnosis to cure my playing issues at one time, but I didn’t really believe that it would work, so that thought was short-lived. Hypnosis depends on belief in order for it to work.

Much of the book focuses on the use of autosuggestion, which is the book’s “saving grace.” Bolton even dedicates a chapter to one of the pioneers of this process/technique, Emile Coué, and I will probably be reading some of Coué’s work in the future. Autosuggestion is a form of hypnosis, but it is done through the use of self-suggestions. Coué began his career working at an apothecary and found that patients would get better faster if their prescriptions were accompanied with a positive note implying that the medicine would work and that the patient would feel better soon. He turned this idea into his theory of autosuggestion, which uses positive suggestion to help people overcome fears and anxiety. This is very similar to one of my previous posts about perspective. If a person believes that they will fail, then that is the outcome that they will experience. However, if a person is able to change their mindset and begin to believe in oneself, then the possibility of success increases dramatically.

Over the past few months, I have been experimenting with autosuggestion, and I really believe that it can be extremely useful in the battle against anxiety. I didn’t really know that I was using autosuggestion, but I’ve been trying to change my mindset and think more positively about my playing. Instead of being afraid of playing, I’ve tried to turn that fear and anxiety into excitement. I’ve also been focusing a lot on the fact that my hard work has been paying off. My playing has progressed tremendously over the past few months, and even if I have a bad day, I can trust in the process and know that as long as I keep working, I will continue to get better.

What I’ve been doing isn’t exactly autosuggestion, but the concepts are very similar. In his book, Bolton talks about using positive mental imagery in conjunction with positively constructed phrases or mantras. These mantras are to be used everyday, starting at least a couple of months in advance of a performance, and are meant to reprogram your mind. He gives simple instructions to follow in order to receive the full benefits of the exercises: repeat the exercises every day, do each exercise at different times throughout the day, do not control your progress, and do not take the exercises overly seriously. That last instruction makes sense, because if you think about the exercises too much, and start to monitor your progress, then they may not work as well. The goal of autosuggestion is to change the unconscious mind, which takes time and cannot be measured.

Bolton shares three exercises with us. The first is a “preparatory routine” that can be done just before performing either of the two remaining exercises. It should take about 2-3 minutes, and is meant to prepare/open the mind to the suggestions given by the exercises. Bolton gives the following instructions for the preparatory routine:

To be done just before doing each exercise in a relaxed atmosphere – Lie down in bed,            or sit in a comfortable chair. Close your eyes, and take several slow, deep breaths, as              you relax as much as possible. As you calmly breathe in, and then out, repeat to                      yourself slowly and deliberately (either in your mind or out loud).

“I am very relaxed, and I am relaxing more and more with each breath I take. My                  mind is becoming more and more receptive to the thoughts that I will soon be                          putting into it. These thoughts will easily enter my unconscious mind, and will allow              me to reach my full potential.”

Repeat these sentences three times to yourself, slowly reading (or thinking) them.

Bolton reminds the reader that this “prelude” should only be done if one is able to relax and focus on nothing but the exercise. Do NOT do the prelude if you are driving or performing any other dangerous activity. He then introduces the exercises, with the first exercise consisting of a pre-worded phrase that is to be repeated, either out loud or mentally, for a certain amount of time, usually about 5 minutes. The person doesn’t have to imagine anything, but rather focus on the phrase and treat it as if he/she were meditating. Bolton reminds us that he designed this phrase for himself, and that the reader should make changes: insert the date of your performance, make it specific to your instrument, or to the performance situation, etc. Here is the phrase and the accompanying instructions:

“As soon as I walk out onto the stage to the give the recital on (date), I will feel happy,            relaxed, and delighted to get the chance to play for the people who are present. Once              I begin to play (or sing), I will feel even better, and my performance will go amazingly            well. The longer I play, the happier I feel, and my recital will be a fine success.”

Repeat this sentence to yourself, at varying speeds. Continue repeating it for about                five minutes. After this time, the exercise is finished; put it out of your mind until the              next time you do it.

Again Bolton states that the reader should change things and make it more personal, or at least make it so that it would sound like something that they would say. He does warn us against the use of “negative” words and phrases. Don’t use phrases such as: “I will not feel anxious,” “I will feel less tension,” “I will not think about missing notes,” etc. When using the autosuggestion phrases, don’t even think about using words that relate to anxiety, tension, or any other bad thing that could occur while performing. This will negate any positive effects from the autosuggestion phrases, and it basically won’t work.

The second exercise is similar to things that I have done before and utilizes positive imagery to overcome anxiety. In the past, I would imagine myself playing my recital, or audition, and during these “fantasies,” I would feel no anxiety. I would picture myself playing through every piece, and everything would go better than planned. Bolton’s exercise is a little bit different, but it utilizes the same basic concept:

Here, you will imagine feeling relaxed, happy, and delighted as you walk out onto the             stage, and play your recital. Do this:

Imagine that you are just about to walk out onto the stage to give your recital.           Imagine that you snap your fingers once. In your vision, as soon as you snap             your fingers, you feel relaxed, happy, and most pleasantly excited. You step                 out onto the stage, and with each step, you feel a surge of relaxed confidence,             and joy. When you play the first notes, you smile slightly, for you are so truly             happy to be able to play for those who have come to hear you. Now, for about             five minutes, as you let this scene continue, and even repeat itself in your                     mind, bathe in these positive emotions.

This exercise also includes something that Bolton calls a “trigger.” In Bolton’s example, he uses a finger snap, but it can be anything. It should not be something that a person does regularly, but a small action that is unique to the situation. This way, when the action is performed, it will hopefully trigger relaxed, happy, and excited feelings.

For what it’s worth, I like the idea behind the exercises presented in Bolton’s book. His wording is a little odd, but that can be changed, and he specifically recommends that the reader personalize each exercise. I just really didn’t like Bolton’s writing style, or some of his content choices throughout the entire book. It wasn’t professional, and I don’t think that I would recommend this book to a student. However, he did present some nice ideas that I will certainly employ, and I am also thankful that Bolton introduced me to the work of Emile Coué. I will definitely be doing more research on Coué, and I know that other books on my reading list will discuss the use of autosuggestion, so I’m looking forward to reading about this topic from different perspectives. I will leave you with a Coué quote that I really liked and describes my situation, and I’m sure others as well, very accurately:

“Day by day, in every way, I am getting better and better.”



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