Once there was a clever magician who amazed audiences everywhere by pulling a tall black hat from a rabbit's mouth. Performing locally at various clubs, fund-raisers, weddings, bar mitzvahs, he dazzled people with his talent. News of the act reached Jay Leno, who invited the magician to appear on the "Tonight Show." So he and the rabbit hopped a plane for L.A. The big night materialized. Jay Leno made the introduction and the audience went wild! Then it happened. In front of millions of viewers, the magician felt anxious, reached into the rabbit's mouth and pulled out his dirty laundry; the last thing he wanted to air on the air. At once, the audience was aware of his most intimate secrets. He went home embarrassed, puzzled, hoping he could clean up his act; but, alas, the hat trick had gone awry. Wherever he performed he left a trail of socks, sheets and underwear. The magician began to panic. "Why is this happening? Will it happen next time? Where's my hat? Why don't these socks match, at least?" Trapped, confused and destitute, the magician felt he had no choice but to hang-up his cape and wand and move in with the rabbit. Now life in a rabbit hole leaves something to be desired; you sort of have to tighten your belt. The magician believed that he wasn't trying hard enough. So he reached into the rabbit's mouth once more for a "pot-o'-gold" and came up with fourteen carrots, instead. Suddenly, it occurred to him how consistently he had been behaving. All he had to do was panic and he could become predictably unpredictable! Did the magician have this power all the time? He decided to test it. He stared at the rabbit, panic welling up inside him, and reached in for his dirty laundry. Just as he realized he was no longer afraid to panic, he pulled out a tall black hat...
What do actors, corporate executives, athletes, spouses and circus animals have in common? On a daily basis, each has to perform in some context. How do they differ? Only the animals do so in the absence of anxiety (at least as we know it). Delivering a presentation, lines from a play; or perhaps more intimate activities, involve behaviors that are learned, consciously, and then "go inside" and become streamlined, that is, stored as sequences of events. These ordered events give meaning to our experiences. They allow us to know from moment to moment what to do next-- to maintain a sense of on-going experience.
Think of how you know to open a door someplace you have never been; or how it is possible to enter your car and be moving in seconds; or why you can tie your shoelaces and chew gum at the same time! All these things once required laborious, conscious thought. Then they became stored as sequences of events, unconsciously, that were directly transferable to other contexts. Hence, having learned how to open a door, you can open all kinds; same with driving, making political speeches or selling a product repeatedly to different people.
Occasionally, however, some people have an internal experience about the possibility of failure. The businessman imagines clients refusing his product; the corporate employee sees himself fumbling for words during a forthcoming presentation and feels anxious ahead of time (why wait to fail when you can have that experience now!); a person engaged in intimate activity runs that little voice which tells him how poorly he is about to do, supported by an image of his spouse-- and her friends-- holding up cards that read, "3.5, 3, 2.5, 2..." (out of 10).
So how can you avoid changing the ending and, therefore, the meaning? Trust in the past. Recall a time when you were remarkably successful and get in touch with how that felt... or think of something else entirely!
Several years ago, a friend met me for a tennis match and suddenly discovered he couldn't open his locker at the club. He had been using the same combination lock for ten years, but it wouldn't open! The more he concentrated, the worse it became. I decided to intervene before our court time had expired. I looked at my watch, and told him it was much later than it was. When he corrected me, I abruptly asked him to adjust my watch... and then even more abruptly, to get moving and stop wasting time. He opened his locker, changed and proceeded to destroy me on the court! How's that for gratitude?