One of my New Year’s resolutions is to de-clutter my house. What better place to begin than clearing the kitchen counters of all the unordered and unwanted magazines, brochures, and flyers from uninvited merchants that have accumulated over the holidays? How so many of these periodicals find my mailbox is beyond my comprehension and certainly beyond my clutter tolerance level.
As I gathered a pile of brochures to toss out, I came across one particular flyer that made me pause. The pictures and products on the cover intrigued me. The flyer was from a cosmetic company and featured products that promised to solve all my skin concerns with special lotions and creams. Living in Michigan during the winter is a challenge to skin of all types, so I read on, especially as one of the brands advertised “Hope in a Jar”. Could the cure for dry skin be a genie in a bottle?
As I turned each page (yes, I had begun to hope) I started to read about fabulous solutions that could put to rest any notion that beauty was more than skin deep. If I could make my skin softer, smoother, brighter I could present my best face forward. The Anti-Aging creams promised immortality!
There were products with alluring names such as “Miracle Worker”, “Time In a Bottle”, “Too Faced”, “Full Exposure”, “Baby Skin” (who could resist wanting to recapture the delicate sweet skin of a newborn?), “Dream Wonder”, and something that promised it would make me “positively radiant”.
I stopped cleaning my cluttered kitchen counter as I thought about cleansing my skin and finding the fountain of youth. I could achieve remarkable results in a matter of weeks. One product promised intensive overnight repair while I slept.
In the midst of my reverie, I woke up with the idea that perhaps I was not only wanting relief from the cold, dry air of Michigan winter, but fantasized about a complete makeover. It was fascinating to me how these ads played into the fantasy of becoming someone other than who you are. In a reverse way, they were actually inviting me to put on a mask. Yet, to be unfettered by the harsh winds of time and the wealth of life experiences would guarantee a fountain of youth. It was so enticing. To make this transformation more inviting, these Ponce de Leon offers promised discount coupons and free gifts.
I could buy products – that I had not even thought about until about 5 minutes earlier – to create a look that would make me ageless. I could defy both the weather and Father Time. If I bought these products by the end of the month, when the bargain cosmetic pumpkin returned to a full-priced carriage, I could also save money as I turned back the clock.
My daydream came to an abrupt end as I realized that these cosmetic companies and their advertising gurus know a great deal about the psychology of performance anxiety. These people are smart. They cater to our self-doubts and wishes to look better, feel better, and perform better – and to have this happen smoothly (like skin) and quickly. They understand that anxious performers worry about how they look to others. Performers typically worry about what others think of them. They believe that a perfect performance, analogous to perfect skin, is a ticket to love and admiration.
Cosmetic gurus understand that suggestion and offering hope (even if its sold in a jar) is reassuring and enticing. They understand the “if only…” beliefs that go something like this: “If only I was talented enough, if only I was smart enough, if only I was slim enough, if only I played fast enough, if only I made a perfect presentation, if only I didn’t get so nervous……….(you fill the blank with your “if only” _______________). “If only” is frequently is followed by the wish that would occur if you were perfect. For example, “If only I gave a perfect and interesting performance then I would be loved, win approval, a raise, applause, a promotion, a perfect score, get into medical school”………..etc. etc. etc.
Aren’t these “if only……….” fantasies enough incentive to make you feel you would benefit from a product that would fix your anxiety as quickly as a cream, a lotion or a powder in the blink of an eye shadow. Magic thinking knows no bounds. Unfortunately, magic thinking does not address why you feel you don’t look good and why you experience performance anxiety.
Beautiful performances and performers are more than skin deep. Anxious performers fear most what might be revealed beneath their skin and perceived body imperfections. Performance anxiety dreams frequently involve appearing naked before an audience. Mr. T. told of his anticipated embarrassment and humiliation at the fear of being exposed as a sham and a fake on stage. As a toddler, he loved to parade around the house singing and dancing. This was appropriate and delightful behavior for a two year old. However, during this time in his young life, his parents divorced. He grew up with the “magic thinking” that all performing (i.e.,“showing off”) would cause people to leave him. He believed the audience would see his perceived guilt behind his professional façade and his stage makeup. He worried the audience/parent would leave too if he displayed his talent on stage. He developed debilitating performance anxiety. Perhaps “Full Exposure” would not be the right cosmetic for Mr.T. In this case, “Miracle Worker” might provide the reassurance he wished for. It would cover blemishes on his skin perhaps, but not the anxiety lurking beneath about his perceived imperfections.
Sarcasm aside, I am very serious in reminding you that performance anxiety does not appear overnight and will not be erased by quick solutions and easy answers. Performance anxiety emerges imperceptively over many years. It takes root in childhood, accumulates over your lifetime , and accompanies you onto the stage or in front of the podium or in an exam room.
Cosmetics can be helpful for dry or oily skin. Your appearance may be enhanced by various potions that come in jars. But inner confidence and healthy self-esteem that enhances pleasurable performing can be achieved through discovering what underlying factors have created your anxiety and how your mind perpetuates them. Performance confidence radiates when you make peace with your inner life.
Now, back to de-cluttering my kitchen counters. I wonder what else I will discover that will lure me into a reverie and delay my New Year’s resolutions?