Fear, The Mind Killer


by Jules Munns

Let’s talk about fear. Something everybody who has ever done improvisation has felt at some point. Fear that you suck, fear that you’re letting people down. Fear that the audience hate you. Fear that you’ve overstayed your welcome. Everybody is afraid sometimes. And that’s ok. I’m pretty sure that standing up in front of people is one of his the things which is inherently fearful, and as for doing it when you don’t know what you’re going to do, well.

It probably seems weird to get this reaction when, let’s face it, no one is going to die. In fact, the highest risk is that you will bore some people. But still, our palms sweat, heart rates rise, muscles tense and we start to breathe fast and shallow. The full fight/flight reaction. All of which would be useful fighting a tiger, but is totally useless trying to play new choice.

Different people react to fear in different ways, here are a few. They probably apply to improvisation and tiger-fighting.

Hiding in the trees – you rarely come on, and when you do, you offer little. You favour general agreement scenes and avoid conflict. You self edit.

Make yourself as big as you can and shout- shouting, making crude jokes. Escalating and not listening. Coming on and trying to write the whole scene yourself.

Running in zig zags – Jumping to a new subject constantly, discarding a scene you don’t believe is not working. Random offers

The things about fear is it reduces your ability to think. There is a classic test of creativity in which subjects are asked to come up with as many uses as possible for, say, a brick. To build a house, to bludgeon someone to death, ground into dust and mixed with water to make paint, to smash a window and rob a jewellery store. When people are artificially frightened and put through this test, their creativity is significantly reduced. And that makes evolutionary sense. If fear evolved to make you run from tigers and hit back at your enemies, the best thing to do is do something, anything. Creating and choosing from a range of options takes too long and will get you killed.

So how to deal with fear? It’s a totally natural reaction, and if we didn’t have it we would be crazy. Bravery is not an absence of fear, it’s the ability to overcome it. Long term, experience, repetition and skill will get you there, but when facing a tiger, you may need a quick fix.

At the start of this blog, I described the physical consequences of fear. And the weird thing about the physical expressions of emotion is that they work both ways. Cross your body and speak fast like you are nervous and you start to feel nervous, but open your arms and smile like you’re happy and you’ll feel that way. Same goes for fear. Here’s an exercise so simple it barely deserves the name:

Lie with your back on the floor with your legs up on a chair. Your waist bends at about a right angle and your knees too, hooked onto the front of the chair. Your legs will slightly fall apart.

That’s it. Now close your eyes and breathe out, then when you have no air, allow the in breath to naturally happen. Then breathe out again. In this position your muscles will naturally relax, your breath will deepen and self-regulate, your heart will slow and you will feel amazing. Your body will be relaxed, so you will be. Fear defeated by physical means.

Oh, and how do you actually take down a tiger? You stalk it, slowly and carefully, you control your breathing, become one with the woods then strike like a scorpion when the time comes. In case you ever need to.