By Paul Cuneo
I’m going to assume that, if you’re reading this article, it’s because you deal with nerves before auditions, meetings or performances, especially in those last moments before you go into the room. I’m like you in that way. I go through the same thing. But I imagine that unlike you, it doesn’t bother me that I’m nervous. I don’t care.
In 2013 I booked four national commercials, I believe in large part because of the new attitude toward nerves I developed about three years ago. It started in an audition waiting room. I remember I was nervous and performing exercises I had read about that were supposed to eliminate, or at least mitigate, nerves. I was holding my breath, and then, when that didn’t work, I was focusing on my breathing. I was pressing my feet hard into the floor, sometimes pinching myself for extended periods of time. I was tensing my whole body, then releasing. I wasn’t imagining everyone in the room naked, as I had tried that before and it never worked for me. (My gosh, the number of things I had tried: thinking about nature, counting backwards by threes from 100, talking myself up, talking myself down. You name it, I had tried it.)
But that day, in that audition waiting room, something opened up in my consciousness, and I realized three things that radically and irrevocably changed my auditions for the better. I realized
1. that I was paying way too much attention to my nerves.
2. that I was judging myself for feeling nervous and anxious, and it was actually this judgment that was exponentially intensifying my anxiety.
3. that nerves could exist in me, along with everything else I was feeling in that moment, and not prevent me from doing what I came to do that day.
With those realizations, I made an immediate change to how I prepared for auditions while in the waiting room. That change took the form of four steps I’ll walk you through right now. I hope they help to free you as much as they helped to free me.
Step One: Make a gentle commitment not to judge yourself for how you feel.
You’ve been judged for how you feel for much of your life. “Why are you so sad? It’s a beautiful day outside.” “How can you be hungry? You ate 15 minutes ago.” “Why are you so upset? I was just joking.”
You may have adopted this tendency to judge yourself for how you feel, but you can disown it. Whatever your role is in the industry, TV, film, theater, internet and radio are all about connecting to an audience emotionally. Emotion is the lifeblood of your work, and judgment of yourself for how you feel is the clot in that lifeblood. Judgment makes you second-guess yourself where you would be spontaneous. It makes you fearful where you would be present. It turns you inward where you would shine outward.
Worst of all, it compounds your anxiety by multiples. Judgment is an attack against yourself by a very worthy opponent: you. Stop judging yourself for feeling nervous and you will head off the heaping on of anxiety that comes from being under attack. You will feel a new sense of freedom, and you will realize it was never your nerves that caused you so much stress but your judgment of your self for feeling nervous. You’ll stop feeling bad about feeling nervous; you’ll stop feeling bad about feeling anything, and you’ll create a space for feeling good.
Step Two: Acknowledge how you feel. Say to yourself, “I’m nervous.” Just as a fact. Without judgment. Just to give your feelings a place. Nothing around it. Just to give yourself permission to be exactly who and what you are in that moment. It feels so good. SO GOOD.
Step Three: DO NOTHING TO GET RID OF YOUR NERVES.
When I was a kid, I found a little bug in the corner of our living room. To study it, I went and got our family’s large magnifying glass. I put the glass over the bug, and it moved. Scared the living daylights out of me because I saw this giant bug move in front of me.
Your judgment and all the attention you pay to your nerves while in the waiting room are like that magnifying glass. Your nerves are just these little emotions you’re feeling, but you pay all this attention to them in the form of judgment and analysis and in all the ways you try to get rid of them. The more you judge, analyze and try to get rid of your nerves the larger they appear. Take your attention off of them and they remain the little, harmless bugs in the giant living room of your consciousness.
Step Four: Feel, then fill, the beautiful space.
After you perform steps one through three, you’ll feel an expansion and a clearing in your consciousness. Just thinking about it makes me feel good. You’ll be tempted to analyze that space: “Are my nerves gone? Did the steps get rid of my anxiety? Was I successful? Did I do it right?”
Let it go. Release it. You’re back to judgment, analysis and a desire to get rid of your nerves. Just feel the space, enjoy it. Experience the flood of beneficial thoughts and feelings that rush in, now that you’ve emptied yourself of judgment. And then keep filling that space with things you love to do, like working on your sides or going over your pitch or admiring the shag carpet under your feet. You’ll feel yourself snap from focusing inward to focusing outward, and you’ll be present to your space, your partner, your world, regardless of whether or not you’re nervous.
I gotta be honest—I actually hope you are nervous! I hope you get the opportunity to practice these four steps and to experience the rush of good feelings that come with implementing them. In short, I hope you get the opportunity to go from being your own worst enemy to being your own best friend; I hope you get the opportunity to move from judgment to love.
Paul Cuneo is an actor and acting coach specializing in revealing and eliminating blind spots in actors’ performance technique. He taught movement at the Stella Adler Academy of Acting for seven years and has been a grateful client of Shawn Tolleson’s for over six years. His national commercials include Taco Bell, Starburst, Infiniti, USAA, Pace Salsa, Real California Milk and Ford. Television and film include Franklin & Bash, Disney’s Imagination Movers and Breathless, opposite Ray Liotta. To learn more about Paul’s coaching, please visit paulcuneo.com and click on Blind Spot.