Why Meditation Isn’t Helping You With Performance Anxiety

If you’re using meditation to help performance anxiety (or any other kind of social anxiety, for that matter ), you need to read this.

You’re almost certainly doing it wrong.

Consider the following assertions:

  1. Eliminating your anxiety is not necessary to solve your real problem.
  2. Eliminating your anxiety is not possible.
  3. Your real problem is not anxiety.
  4. Meditation was never invented for the purpose of eliminating anxiety.
  5. Most people who meditate are doing it in order to eliminate anxiety.
  6. Most people are misunderstanding what meditation can do.
  7. Meditation can do something much more interesting and useful than eliminating your anxiety.

I just threw a lot of stuff at you. You might want to argue with it.

You can argue. It’s fine.

But, I will not argue back, because this isn’t a matter of argument.

Arguing is good when you’re trying to arrive at the correct solution, or when you’re trying to tease out logical fallacies.

This, however, is not about logic. It’s about helping you with the issue you have. Even if you’re logically correct, if you still have the issue…you’ve got nothing.

On the other hand, if you get rid of the issue, but you’re logically incorrect…at least you don’t have the issue anymore.

So, what’s more important to you: being logically correct, or getting help for your issue?

But, I want to be logically correct!

This is a serious concern, and I relate to it. I hate being logically incorrect. I’ve also spent too much time suffering because I was unwilling to let go of my need for logical correctness.

I’m not asking you to abandon logical correctness altogether and sign on to whatever bullshit I might throw in your direction.

I’m only asking you to exercise the skill of suspending judgment while you wait to experience the effects of whatever the thing is.

You can bound it by time, if you wish. For example, try reading what I’m writing without arguing with it. Just make one pass through without arguing. You’re free to argue after that. But at least know what it feels like to read without arguing.

Once you’ve practiced both (reading with arguing, and reading without arguing), you will then have more freedom in the future to use whichever seems most appropriate in any given context.

Does that sound logical to you?

If not, take some time right now to argue with it.

Your real problem is NOT anxiety

I’m going to speak in a confrontational manner.

It’s a technique. You don’t have to take it seriously. Just let the words wash over you.


OK, here it is:

The reason you think you have an anxiety problem is only because other people told you that you do. It’s not because you actually perceive an anxiety problem.

Are you willing to question the existence of an anxiety problem? To go back to first principles and follow the truth wherever it leads?

Please don’t agree with me “just because”. Your personal experience should always be the ultimate metric of what’s right for you (and if your personal experience tells you to go with science, you should go with science).

Everything I say is only intended to provoke experiences that will teach you new things. You should always be the one to decide what to do with that information.

(This is another great opportunity to read without arguing. Just let the words wash over you. Like when you walk to the store, you don’t stop and pay attention to every little thing you pass. You fix your attention on the path from here to the store, and go along for the ride.)

Again, you don’t have an anxiety problem

The fact that you think you have an anxiety problem is making things worse for you.

Instead of focusing on your anxiety, focus on what the anxiety is stopping you from doing.

When I’m performing on the piano, my “anxiety problem” causes all kinds of issues. But the feeling of anxiety itself? Not a big deal.

Is it a big deal? You tell me.

Look at your own experience. Can you deal with the feeling of anxiety?

The common narrative about how “anxiety is a problem” would have you believe that you couldn’t. If you listen to what society tells you about anxiety, you will walk away thinking that the feeling itself is this awful thing that is simply unbearable in all circumstances.

I hope I’m causing you to question what you’ve been taught. If you stick around, I will destroy all of it.

Notice what you do in response to the anxiety

That’s where you want to pay attention.

How do you respond to the anxiety?

How do you try to eliminate it?

When I’m performing on the piano, anxiety stops me from taking risks. This makes my playing worse.

That’s the real problem.

It’s all the other stuff. My playing gets worse, I don’t take risks, I tense up trying to prevent mistakes, I avoid letting myself get absorbed in the music, and so on. Ultimately, I avoid performing.

These are all side effects of my attempts to control the anxiety.

Got it?

It’s counter-intuitive. Honestly, it’s probably too complicated for average people to understand. It’s much simpler to just say “I have an anxiety disorder so I should take anti-anxiety pills or do an anti-anxiety meditation,” as if that’s going to fix something.

Anti-anxiety treatments will not eliminate your distaste for taking risks at the piano. They just won’t. We’re talking about long-standing habits and worldviews that are about so much more than a momentary feeling.

Does meditation help with anxiety?

Yes, meditation will help you with this.

But, not because it will help you calm down. You don’t need to calm down. What you need is a way to mitigate the side effects.

This is why meditation is useful. It will help you become aware of all the cause and effect relationships between your thoughts, feelings, behaviors, and your environment.

Once you understand how all that stuff is connected, your very intelligent mind will piece things together.

It will automatically deduce facts such as “when I’m worried what people will think of me, I avoid performing, and as a result I miss out on whatever fun I might get from performing, so maybe I should perform even though I will experience anxiety.”

It will do that kind of cost-benefit analysis for you.

But, you have to feed it a lot of data. Meditation is the process of sitting down and letting your mind take in data.

It knows what to do with it. It will monitor what is causing pleasure and what is causing pain.

At the end of the day, those relationships between actions and pleasure/pain are what you need to be learning. That is what wisdom is.

What you should do right now

You should start practicing meditation. Every little bit counts, so do it.

There are many techniques you can try, but they all lead to the same place: getting you to sit still enough so that you start paying attention and letting your mind absorb data.

Everything you notice about your environment is another point you’ve scored in the meditation game. Each point leads to more wisdom.

Your task:

  1. Set a timer for 30 minutes.
  2. Focus on the sensations of breathing.
  3. Each time your mind wanders, bring it back to the sensations of breathing.

That is the meditation game. It works because every time you notice you’re mind wandering, you are immediately contacting your present environment. So, you’re guaranteed to take in more and more data.

It will do much more for you than any attempts to control or eliminate mere feelings.


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