Episode 236 – Five Stages To Conquer Anxiety

Rob Shallenberger: Alright, welcome back to our Becoming Your Best podcast listeners. This is Rob Shallenberger. I am here with our good friend and co-author, Dr. Jon Skidmore. So, Jon, great to have you back, again!

Jon Skidmore: Rob, it is great to be here! It’s such a privilege and a pleasure to work with you.

Rob Shallenberger: Oh, it’s always fun. We love Jon! Well, today, we’re going to talk a little bit more about our recently released book – Conquer Anxiety. If you have not read this book, this is a book, really, that I believe that everybody should read because anxiety in one form or another will touch everyone’s lives, whether we acknowledge it and realize it, or, like what happens in many cases, we don’t even realize that we’re experiencing anxiety. But the truth is, we’re being held back many times by this unseen force that sometimes is very seen, depending on the scale of it.

Rob Shallenberger: So, we did a podcast a couple of weeks ago – some of you may have already listened to that – and we talked about Chapters #1 and #2 of the book: what is the mind all about? Why do we, as humans, experience anxiety? What’s happening in the brain that’s causing that? The second part that we talked about on that podcast – the previous podcast – was what’s in chapter two of the book, which is that assessment. And the reason that assessment is so important before we get into those five stages that we’ll talk about today, is because we need to understand the root cause of what’s causing the anxiety. Where is that fear coming from? Where’s that activation coming from? What’s causing it? For every person, the answer may be different. And so, that’s why the assessment in Chapter #2 is so critical to take that and really give the time it deserves because if a person is going to apply the five stages of peak performance found throughout the rest of the book, it’s so much more effective when we understand the why. Right, Jon?

Jon Skidmore: Absolutely! When we get what’s in the background, and why that background is so powerful, then we’re going to be in a much better place to say, “Wait a minute! That needs to stay in the background and go way, way, way in the background as it’s some old experience, some past experience.” And we want to be able to be in a position right now where we can say, “I’m going to move forward from this.”

Rob Shallenberger: Yeah, and that’s why chapter two is so critical. So now, we’re going to move into the next part of the book, which is, really, the solution part. When a person understands where the anxiety is stemming from, the nervousness, the anxiousness – now, what do you do about it? How do you conquer that anxiety, overcome it, and learn to move beyond it? And I love the words that Jon likes to use: “So that a person can have boldness, confidence, freedom, and peace, and be liberated from those emotions that are so gripping to so many of us. So, we’re going to jump into this!

Rob Shallenberger: Let me give just a little brief background on the five stages, then Jon can share any thoughts that he may have, as well. Is that alright, Jon?

Jon Skidmore: You bet!

Rob Shallenberger: So, what the five stages really are: we talk about performance anxiety. There’s a lot of different types of anxiety, They’re all, really, interconnected in many different ways. And so, these five stages will help with any form of anxiety. Having said that, we do focus specifically on performance anxiety. So, maybe you’re asking, “Well, what is a performance?” Well, there’s the obvious answer to that, which is, you know, whether it’s a musician playing in front of a group of people, an athlete playing their sport in front of a crowd. But then, there’s the more subtle parts of performance anxiety, which is, maybe you’re being asked to give a presentation in front of a group of peers, whether in school at the university level, or maybe you’re an executive in your organization and you’re being asked to speak, and you feel those familiar butterflies in your stomach, the sweaty palms – that is performance anxiety. You know, for some, it’s getting up and walking outside the front door. That is a performance in its own right.

Jon Skidmore: Talking to a child about a particular concern, looking at their finances, figuring out what they’re going to do for a holiday. There’s so many different ways anxiety can impact “the performance” of what we do with different things in our lives.

Rob Shallenberger: That’s just an example of how robust and how extensive the reach is when we say performance anxiety. It’s much more than the music performance, the athlete, or whatever. This, really, will touch all of us in different ways. So, let’s jump into this! We’re just going to give a very brief overview of what these five stages are. The hope is that you’ll read the book, that you’ll share the book with family members, with friends, with coworkers. We just had someone the other day who ordered the book for their entire team, which was an awesome thing to do! She just said, “A lot of our team experiences this and this will be a huge help to them!” That’s the idea. So, for those of you who would like to get a copy of the book, go to, and you can either get the book or everything that we’re going to talk about today, we’ve also created an online course for this. It’s $99 – so anybody can invest in it – and you’re going to see every activity, every exercise, everything that’s in the book, in a video format, because if you’re like me,  it’s one thing to read it, which is awesome. A compliment to that, though, what’s really beneficial, is to actually see how to do those different things.

Rob Shallenberger: Anyway, let’s jump into this! Stage one, I’ll give a very brief overview to this, and then, I really want to spend a lot more time in stage two because stage two is a big deal for everybody. And then, we’ll get into some of the others. But, stage one is all about the vision. It’s connecting with, why do you want to do this in the first place? Whatever ‘this’ is for you. So, if it’s – like Jon mentioned – having a discussion with your son or daughter, if it’s giving a sales presentation, if it’s playing an instrument or a sport or rock climbing or name the event – what is your motivation and your vision of why you want to do that?

Rob Shallenberger: And this is something, you know, as I’ve had the chance to travel the world and do keynotes and things like that, I’ll hear other keynote speakers and I can’t count how many times I’ve heard people say, “Find your why! Find your passion!” And it’s left to that. No one ever talks about how to do it. Well, there’s a reason people are talking about that, right? And anybody listening to this podcast knows that we’ve talked many times about the power of the vision – less than 1-3% of people have a written personal vision. And so, there’s huge power in reconnecting with your vision. And this is the beginning, and Jon’s going to talk about this – and I’d like to hear your thoughts on this, Jon.

Rob Shallenberger: Starting with the vision, as a starting point, is a place of hope, it’s a place of excitement, and it reconnects a person with, ‘Why are you doing this?’ So, rather than focusing on the problem, and everything surrounding the negativity of whatever it is, now we’re shifting the playing field to a place of hope. It’s a place of, “Okay, there’s a reason I’m doing this, and here’s the reason, the passion behind it.” And it starts to help us create that mindset by design that we need to have if we want to have a successful performance or getting out of bed in the morning. How much easier is it to get out of bed in the morning if we have a purpose that we can connect with, if our heart has a reason to beat? Jon, why don’t you talk a bit about this because I know the one common thread amongst all of this is creating this mindset by design, and that’s why we started with stage one, which is to identify the vision.

Jon Skidmore: The vision is actually easy. The mindset by design is, what’s the attitude? What’s the mindset I’ve got to stay and be in? If I’m living that, if I’m being that today, that vision is going to show up. If I’m being bold, confident, excited, I’m staying bold, confident, excited, even when there’s a breakdown, even when there’s a problem, even when people start to say, “You really want to do what? You’ve got to be kidding!” “No, this is my vision and I’m going to stay in a position of confidence and boldness, in that kind of mindset.” So, often, suddenly, in those moments where we’re confronted by something with our vision, and our struggle to pursue that, we go into that negative part of our brain, that mid part of our brain, and there’s all kinds of chatter in there that says, “Oh, no, you can’t do it! You’re not enough of this and too much of that. And if only this, and if only that.” That’s one of the real powers of designing a mindset, is you get to say, “Wait a minute! This is my mindset. I really want to be bold here. I’m committed to being integris.” In other words, I’m going to follow the power of my word here. I said I’m going to have this done by four o’clock, and I didn’t do it. Well, then we go to that place of, “Oh, I’m so bad. I just failed.” Or we say, “Wait a minute! What do I have to do to restore that? Who do I need to contact? What do I need to say? What do I need to do?” And so that design the mindset gives us a checkpoint. And what’s really exciting about this, Rob is when you have this checkpoint of ‘my designed mindset’, you look and say, “Okay, am I experiencing that in stage two? Am I experiencing that in stage three? Did I experience that in stage four – the performance? Am I experiencing that same kind of positive, powerful mindset in stage five?

Jon Skidmore: See, this whole process, this tool of the five stages, takes the performance, whatever it is, big or little, out of the context of, an event is a good thing or a bad thing, a right thing or a wrong thing – and it puts into this process that says, “Wait a minute, this is my vision. These are my goals I’m committed to. This is the attitude and the energy I want to bring to it. Am I doing it? I am!” Well, the next morning you wake up and you go, “Okay, Stage two: am I in a bold, confident, free mindset? I am. Well, what am I going to do? What skills do I need to do?”

Jon Skidmore: The skills related to this skill set are often very clear – we either know them or we don’t know them. I often talk about a performance step fails, breaks down because of a lack of preparation. Those are the easiest fixes. Like, learn it. Figure it out. Just put some time in there. A musician friend of mine says, “Go chop some wood! You’ve got to get that tree over there. Let’s turn it into firewood. We’ve got to go do some action on it.” Those are the easiest fixes. The ones that most people get so frustrated about, angry about, depressed about, are the times where it’s like, “I’ve got this skill, I know how to do this. I wanted it to show up on Friday at seven o’clock. It didn’t show up.”

Rob Shallenberger: It’s the mental interference.

Jon Skidmore: It’s the mental interference stuff. So, we started talking about this mental interference stuff, and I suddenly realized, we need the mindset. We need to understand the skills of the performer’s mindset.

Rob Shallenberger: What we’re doing is making a shift now, from stage one to stage two, right? So, stage one is all about the vision, the motivation, and that mindset, and bringing that attitude to whatever it is that we’re doing. That’s the positive place to start that we can all go to, that combats all that negativity and that mental interference. Now, just to clarify, when we now shift to stage two, we’re talking about the mental and the physical preparation. Stage two is probably the biggest chapter in the book. And I ought to say about stage one, in the book, there’s some things that will ask you to come up with and develop trigger words to counter that mindset, to recognize when the interference is showing up and you’re slipping back, because we all do it. I mean, it’s happened to all of us at some point. Stage Two is so important because this is the mental and the physical preparation that will help us move towards those desired attitudes and maintain that desired mindset, right?

Jon Skidmore: Absolutely!

Rob Shallenberger: So expand now on stage two. I just wanted to clarify that we’re transitioning over here to stage two. Clarify what we mean by the mental and the physical preparation and maybe talk about activation a little bit.

Jon Skidmore: Absolutely. When we think of mental preparation, most of us think of practice a lot. If you just practice a lot, just do your thing a lot, whatever it is, you’ll be mentally prepared. Not so. There’s some specific skills that top performers have. And what are they? First off, they know how to manage their body, they know how to manage what’s going on in their physiological experience. Now, we often refer to this as performance anxiety. We like to talk about it as ‘activated’. In other words, this sympathetic nervous system, this system in my body is now on and what does it do when it’s on? It makes me sweat. It makes my mouth go dry. It makes my handshake, it makes my voice kind of quivery, it makes me want to run away, I’m upset, I’m angry. So, those are all the signals that say this physiological thing, the stress response is now on. Well, one thing top performers do, when they’re activated like that, they go, “I’m not in danger! This is something I’m choosing to do, and I don’t need to be in this ‘danger’ kind of mindset. In fact, I want to bring a bold, confident, free mindset to this; I want to focus on that.” But sometimes, that level of activation – anxiety can be so overwhelming – it is debilitating.

Jon Skidmore: And on the other side of that, the other end of that, a lot of people are just, “Well, I’m not going to leave the front door, because that’s just too scary, so I’ll just stay where I’m at, safe.”

Rob Shallenberger: It’s the avoidance.

Jon Skidmore: It’s the avoidance. And so, in our book, we’ve really been able to do a number of things in terms of six different exercises to help us calm our body down, to start to practice that. A couple of things you’ve got to know when you start to do this: first off, you can activate faster than a heartbeat. It’s caused by a flood of super juice – all those neurochemicals flood the body; it takes like 20 minutes or more for those neurochemicals to get burned out of your system. So, a lot of people start to do some of these deactivation exercises and go, “It’s not working. What else can I find? What else can I do?” Rather than saying, “No, this is a skill I need to practice, this is something I want to practice every day.”

Jon Skidmore: On a worldwide level now, we’re hearing a lot more about mindfulness and the importance of calming down and relaxing. We still don’t practice it enough. Right now, about 10% of the people I talk to, in any given group, will put their hand in the air when I say, “How many of you, on a regular basis – we’re talking once a day, multiple times a day, multiple times a week – practice a meditation or relaxation experience? About 10%. So all you have to do is just ask yourself if you’re in that 10% category or not: in the last week, how many intentional moments of meditation, relaxation, did you practice?

Rob Shallenberger: So, this is really important right here! I just want to touch on that because as we’ve been writing this book over the last year, and learning from Jon a little bit more in this arena, it’s something I’ve become much more intentional about myself. This is – and Jon mentioned this, I just want to reiterate it – this is a skill set.

Jon Skidmore: It is a skill set!

Rob Shallenberger: It’s not something we can just call on-demand and say, “Boom, I’m activated, the super juice is flowing, the adrenaline.” If you’ve ever had a panic attack or know someone who has, that’s an example of the super juice flowing, right?

Jon Skidmore: An extreme kind of form. Tidal waves!

Rob Shallenberger: And it takes that time for it to flood out of the system. Well, the point is, there’s six breathing exercises in the book, and there’s six mindfulness exercises we talk about that will help with both the mental and the physical activation and the preparation. My point here is that these are not on-demand. While they can be, what Jon’s suggesting there, is that you don’t want to just wait for three or four weeks, and then, all of a sudden, you feel that activation feeling coming on and say, “Now it’s time to do it!” This is a skill set, rather, that we should be doing and taking a few minutes every day to focus on. Choose one or two of these breathing exercises, these mindfulness exercises, and just practice them. I’ve been doing this now, most days, over the last six or seven months and it’s had a huge impact! It’s helped me develop further that skill set. If we ever need it on-demand, it’s there. But what Jon is saying there is, that is part of the mental preparation that actually helps us maintain the proper activation window.

Jon Skidmore: Rob, you mentioned the activation window. What we’re really talking about, there’s a space that if we’re excessively activated, too much energy, too much activation, that’s going to interfere with our performance. Likewise, if the energy is too low, it’s real flat, that’s going to have a negative impact on our performance as well. I look forward to those times every day where I do those meditation things. I look forward to that. It’s like, that is a mental and physical reprieve for me, it’s a reset point, it really helps me define what I’m going to be doing for the next two hours or the rest of the afternoon. And it’s so important! I can’t tell you how many clients, Rob, I’ve seen over the years where I’ve said, “Look, did you practice the relaxation sessions?” “Well, you know, I really wasn’t all that stressed this week so I didn’t have a reason to.” And I was like, “You’re missing the point. This is something that you’ll be surprised. Do an experiment. The next three weeks, take five minutes, 15 minutes in your day. At the very least, you could do it at a stoplight. It doesn’t take that long to get mindful, to start to breathe, start to do some of these exercises. You’re going to start to notice a difference immediately!” So, the goal behind activation management is, if you’re excessive, you want to be able to bring it down. If you’re on the low side, you want to have positive, healthy, natural ways to bring it up. By the way, a great way to do that is just to stand in place and just jog for like a minute. And then, as you’re jogging, just like, “Whoo, I just ran away and now I’m safe!” What a simple little exercise to kind of help reset things.

Rob Shallenberger: You know, we’ve already been going for 17 minutes. I feel like we’re not even doing stage two justice because there’s so much great content in this chapter! I’ll tell you what, this is why we did the online course! There were people asking, saying, “You know, I’ve read about it in the book.” And they’re like me, they said, “Could you show us some examples of how this is to be done? What does it look like when we say ‘tapping’ exercise? What does the fire and ice breathing exercise look like? And so, on the online course, every one of these is demonstrated so that you can see exactly how it’s done. It doesn’t need to be done perfectly, but there’s an example there. So, let’s move from stage two, if that’s all right, Jon. Although, you know what? Let’s take one minute on at least Monkey Chatter.

Jon Skidmore: Yeah. Just as the body can react physiologically, our brain reacts. It reacts with a first-response thought. And the term ‘monkey chatter’ is a very old term that describes how that midbrain in all the noise, all the, “I can’t do it. You’re not enough of this. You’re too much of that. Oh, that’s not for you! You don’t volunteer for nothing.” Whatever that monkey chatter is. And unfortunately, oftentimes, that monkey chatter goes clear back into all the experiences, where it’s like, “Oh, now you’re bad. Now you’re stupid. You are just not enough. You’ll never be as big and strong and as amazing as your brother.” But it doesn’t really matter what it is. It’s all going to show up there if we listen to it. So, learning to listen to that monkey chatter and call it chatter, first-response thought is just not to be trusted. And then just start to recognize.

Rob Shallenberger: So, just to clarify that: the first-response thought is, you know, an event happens, and then the very first thought that follows that is usually something negative. And we call that the monkey chatter. And that’s why we’re saying we shouldn’t trust that first thought.

Jon Skidmore: Well, recognizing that first-response thinking is so important! Again, if your first response to a job posting, is, “Oh, I couldn’t get that.” Well, if you stay in that first response, you will never apply for it. And so, to recognize, “Oh, that first response is just monkey chatter – I shouldn’t apply for that. Well, who said? I can apply for that! Hey, I’ve got a degree. Hey, I’ve got knowledge, I’ve got skills. I’m qualified! I’m going to put my application in!” And see, that’s moving out of that midbrain first response into the frontal cortex where you’re deciding, where you’re choosing and you’re directing your life. If we look at the skill sets and the mindset stuff that’s really about stage two, it’s about managing your activation. It’s about managing the chatter in your head. It’s about establishing your goals and vision. It’s about strengthening your attention-focus and control. And as we do these things, then we’re better able to stay in the pursuit of those goals. We stay in line with those actions that are moving us to complete our vision.

Jon Skidmore: Now, there’s a thing about stage two that is so important! When you’ve been practicing the mindset skills, and you’ve been practicing and developing your skillset, at some point – now this is an amazing little jam here, are you ready for this? – my preparation is complete! The moment you declare your preparation complete, you are now free to pursue sharing your gift, pursuing the reason you’re doing this, rather than worrying about if you’re enough, if you’re going to do it right. And so, the next time you have any kind of presentation, meeting with a boss, whatever it’s going to be, you’ve prepared as much as you can prepare. You’ve got a mindset that’s positive, declared your preparation complete. Now you start to focus on stage three.

Jon Skidmore: Stage three is all about the pre-performance experience. Now, if there’s a time where people psych themselves out, this is it. And it’s usually about the doubting: “I’m not prepared. It’s not going to be good enough. What if I make a mistake? What if I screw it up?” But when they start to go to that space of doubt, it doesn’t matter how much you’ve practiced because your midbrain is now interfering, and it actually interferes and prevents you from remembering what you’ve prepared. It’s amazing to recognize how our brain goes into fight or flight state, survival is the most important thing. I need to be running out of here as quickly as I can. And do I need to remember all those things I just memorized? No, I just need to run. I’ve been running since I was two years old. I just need to run. And so, that’s where it starts to really get into our psyche, and really starts to psych ourselves out. Likewise, this is also the place where you use visualization. Rob, I know you are a big one on the visualization. Tell us a little about that. How would you use visualization in a pre-performance kind of experience?

Rob Shallenberger: Yeah! And just to back up, I am sad to leave stage two, because I know there’s so much more in that chapter and in the online course that we haven’t been able to talk about on this podcast. And, man! There’s so many useful things in stage two, that will have a big impact on someone’s life. So, I really hope that everyone listening to this podcast will get the book and read it and apply what you learn in stage two, to your situation based upon the assessment that you took in chapter two from earlier in the book. So yeah, let me now jump in and answer your question, Jon.

Rob Shallenberger: So, in stage three, there’s really three areas that we focus on. Like Jon mentioned, this is within 24 hours of whatever you’re going to do – your performance. And again, it could be very formal – like a musical presentation, an athletic event – or informal – walking out your door, to use that earlier example. And so, it’s about designing these pre-performance routines, maintaining that optimal performance mindset, and then, just like Jon was alluding to right here, it’s what we call chair flying, or visualization.

Rob Shallenberger: And anybody who’s been following our podcast for any amount of time has heard us talk about chair flying. And this is the one last thing you want to do to visualize yourself being successful, whatever it is you’re going to do. So, in the fighter pilot world, we use that term ‘chair flying’, because what we would do after the brief, just before we go out to the jet, is we would sit down in a quiet room, we’d close our eyes and we would involve all five senses. We would imagine what it was like in the jet. We close our eyes and say, “Alright, what does it smell like in the cockpit? Alright, yeah, we visualized that smell. How does it feel? It’s about 90 degrees. It’s pretty hot. I’m sweating and I stink a little bit here. What do you see? I’m flying at a low-level, over the desert, 500 knots, 500 feet; I see my wingman out to the left one-mile line abreast. Okay, great! What’s going on?” And then we chair fly in our mind the most important part of that mission. “So, at 6.2 miles, I’m going to check 20 degrees right – 6.2 20 right; 20 right, heading 120 up 20 degrees high, AB nozzle swing, looking for 5.2, roll in, roll in; ccip, 20% – and so on.” So, we go through it in our mind’s eye, and the chances of being successful out there when we’re really doing the real thing go up dramatically. So, it’s one more chance to bring everything together and chair flying is a powerful habit.

Rob Shallenberger: So, we invite people, whatever you’re doing within 24 hours – and let me just pause to say: this doesn’t have to be within 24 hours of your event. You can chair fly anytime, anywhere, and it will be beneficial. We’re saying that, specifically, prior to whatever you’re going to do, whether it’s rock climbing, speaking, playing a sport, a musical instrument, is to at least allocate a few minutes – whether it’s right before you step on the stage, onto the court or wherever it is – and chair fly one last time what a great performance looks like. What does bold, confident, free, look like? What does it feel like? And involve all five senses in that chair flying. And again, I don’t want to keep saying this, but we don’t have a lot of time in this podcast. The details on how to do this are in the book. And I’ve shown you a very specific example in the online course, on how to actually do chair flying. The point is, just starting and even doing it to a degree is better than doing nothing.

Jon Skidmore: Rob, one thing I think is really important here to understand is, if we do not actively have a positive visualization that we’re trying to practice, we almost by default go into this, “What if I go out there and I mess it up? What if I go out there and I trip? What if I mess it up and then crash?” I mean, we go into this default stuff which triggers more anxiety, more interference, more avoidance, more frustration. So, by taking those few moments to recognize, “My preparation is complete. This is what I want to present.” Whoever we are, whatever we’re doing, we have a goal, we have a vision, we have a story to tell, a song to sing, we have a message to share. And that’s part of what my dedication in the book is all about: it takes a courageous soul to go out of that comfort zone and to recognize they have something they want to share. And I’m going to face and do whatever I need to. And that’s really the vision, that’s that visualization to get us out there so we can step into stage four.

Rob Shallenberger: It’s interesting, when we talk about the performance, you know, I have a friend who has experienced a lot of anxiety in her life. Her performance is way different than many other performers who we’ve met; her performance is to get in the car and drive across town.

Jon Skidmore: Oh, there’s a lot of people. That’s a big thing.

Rob Shallenberger: So, I just want to reiterate that this does not have to be an official go-on-stage. You know, when we’re talking about all of these stages and things leading up to whatever the performance is, the performance might be as simple for someone as getting in the car or walking out the door for others. If you’re a CEO, you may be speaking to 30,000 of your employees. So, there can be a really wide swath of what we’re talking about when we say ‘the performance’, right?

Jon Skidmore: Absolutely!

Rob Shallenberger: There’s a lot of things that could be encompassed in here. So, stage four is probably the shortest one, yet it’s the most important! Everything about what we’ve done in the previous three stages is about the performance. So, when the time arrives, you can do whatever that is that you want to call your performance in a bold, confident way, and enjoy doing it, love it! Whatever it is, to be liberated from the chains of the anxiety and actually love doing it. So, whether it is getting in the car and driving across town, or whether it is performing in front of a group or speaking to 3000 people, actually being able to do it and love it!

Jon Skidmore: The characteristics of a peak performance is something that’s really been studied right now, and it’s been a really very popular topic for study for the last 25 years. There’s so much information about it now. I like to really simplify it. A peak performance is an experience of play. If you looked at the experiences or the characteristics of a peak performance and compared them to what a child is experiencing in the sandbox or a playground, they’re the same thing. I’m here in this moment, I’m positive about what I’m doing, I’m not evaluating, thinking, criticizing, or worrying about that and what I’m doing. I’m in that moment, I’ve got the skills to meet the demands, it’s working, the feedback I’m getting is working, I’m enjoying it! I’m there! We often call that ‘the flow state’ in that zone. What an exciting thing! I like to think of the five stages as actually like a flow hack. You start to set things up in the five stages, and you start to experience this more often, for longer periods of time, more frequently. And that’s a really exciting thing!

Rob Shallenberger: It is! And what Jon’s referencing is there’s really three parts in this chapter. It’s Setting Proper Expectations – in other words, you need to set the proper expectations for a performance. Perfection – in the fighter pilot world, perfection was our standard, yet we never achieved it. So, we would always debrief afterwards to develop lessons learned, so we could repeat successes and eliminate failures, which we’ll get into in the next stage. But the point is, even though we had an expectation, at the very same time, while we knew perfection was our expectation, the other expectation was we weren’t going to achieve it. We knew we were going to make mistakes – that was a part of the process, it was a part of every flight – and we were okay with that. We wanted to get better and better. And that’s why we talk about setting proper expectations for a performance. Part Two in this chapter is Perfectionism and Avoidance. If we expect perfection, and that is the expectation, but we’re not prepared for anything else, then we’re really setting ourselves up for a frustrating experience.

Jon Skidmore: Absolutely!

Rob Shallenberger: And so, you know what? We’re going to make mistakes. There’s going to be things we could do better. That is all part of being in the sandbox, to use that terminology. It’s all being in the experience. We’re learning, we’re growing. We’re having a great time! And so, we want to set those proper expectations about what happens during a performance. And then, like Jon talked about, Being in the Zone – that’s the third part in this chapter. We’ve all felt this. It’s like you can’t miss. And we’ve all felt what it’s like to be out of the zone. Playing tennis, you know, the nets.

Jon Skidmore: Throwing bricks.

Rob Shallenberger: Yes, throwing bricks. Playing tennis – the net is 10 feet tall. How come I can’t get it over the net? It’s the mental interference. So, that’s all part of stage four, which is the actual performance. Stage four, you know what happens, the performance comes, the performance goes; it’s going to go how it’s going to go. And the question, then, in stage five, which is why this is such an important stage, which we’ll wrap up with is, the Post-performance Debrief. In other words, we had the performance. What worked? What didn’t? How do we grow from that experience? And if it didn’t go well, how do we keep it from crippling us and rather just learn from it and move on. So, talk a little bit about the post-performance debrief and incorporate it in the post-performance bashing.

Jon Skidmore: Oh, God, okay! See, the post-performance bashing, which is something most of us are really skilled at, comes from our midbrain, which means it’s coming from our history. It’s all those bad experiences we’ve had. All those things that we’ve been told we’ve done wrong, and our reactions to that. And that’s a really ugly habit. There’s actually no basis to assume that beating yourself up post-performance for what happened negatively, what didn’t go right, what went wrong, is going to improve your next performance. In fact, we know it’s just the opposite.

Jon Skidmore: And so, the idea of going into this self-bashing routine is not going to help you at all. But what’s better is the debriefing. See, we go into the frontal cortex, and we’re saying, “Okay, what worked?” The vast majority of what we want to see work, works. That’s just how it works! That’s what professionals do. They’re professionals, they want to see this stuff show up. It’s going to work. Is there a high likelihood some things won’t work? Yeah. Well, what are we going to do next time? How do we cope with those breakdowns? How are we going to use those breakdowns to turn them into breakthroughs? If we were all doing easy things, we would be all doing easy things and we wouldn’t be worrying about these things because it’d be easy. But if you’re listening to this, you’re a person who’s got some intention and goal and purpose. This isn’t easy stuff to do. But recognizing that what worked, what didn’t? What am I going to do next time – is a mindset and an attitude that is aligned with bold, confident, free. Suddenly, I can move forward with this. I’ve talked to so many people in different levels of life, ages, stages, professions – they can find key moments that they just straight out walked away from, “That was so bad, horrible, terrible. I am never going there again!” And it’s just simply because they didn’t know they could ask those questions. Well, what worked? Well, obviously, my intended goal did not work. But what did I learn from this? What could I use from this that’s going to help me on the next time. And then, there’s so many doors that could open up!

Rob Shallenberger: And just to clarify one thing here, Jon! On our website,, if you go to the Resources tab on top – if I remember correctly – there is a free post-performance debriefing sheet.

Jon Skidmore: Yes!

Rob Shallenberger: And so, if you go to the website – – I think it’s the Resources tab. You’ll see it pretty quickly, if you look around the website; you’re going to see this free PDF that will walk through a debrief and it’s really a debrief of all five stages. What was the original vision? What was the mindset and attitude that you brought to this? Stage two: what was the mental and the physical preparation like, as you went through this breathing, the mindfulness exercises, the positive self-talk – everything that’s in stage two. Stage three, the pre-performance routines, the chair flying, etc. So, it’s a debrief sheet that helps you debrief in the context of the five stages. I promise that if you have something that you were specifically doing that you would call your ‘performance’, as you go through that debrief sheet and look at it, you will find things, like Jon said, a lot of things that did work, and you’ll find some things that didn’t work. And that’s why asking those key questions becomes so important. What worked well? Great! Let’s repeat those! What didn’t work so well? How do we fix that and improve next time? And when you have that sheet that walks you through the five stages, it becomes very apparent and quick the areas that went well, and then the areas that we need to improve the next time around.

Jon Skidmore: Rob, I’ve talked to so many people who are on that edge, on that edge of like, “I’m never doing this again!” And just to be able to go back to the five stages and say, what worked and what didn’t about stage one? What worked and what didn’t about stage two? Oh, I have no idea how to manage deactivation, how to manage that sense of stress response. I don’t know how to do that. That didn’t work.” You didn’t have that skill. It just really brings the skills that are needed, and suddenly it’s like, “Oh, I’m not going over the edge anymore. I’m going toward my goal. That’s what I want to achieve!”

Rob Shallenberger: We go back to stage one, the vision, again, right?

Jon Skidmore: They go right back to the vision. It takes them right back to the vision, and then they can start to pursue that and start to acquire the skills that they need. “Wow, I’ve got some issues with attitude management. I didn’t think I did. I thought I was pretty together but no, this attitude just showed up and it just knocked me down!”

Rob Shallenberger: There’s a cello player that you’ll read about in the book in stage five, who just about threw away his career because he had one bad performance he wasn’t ready for.

Jon Skidmore: He did throw away his career.

Rob Shallenberger: He did throw away his career!

Jon Skidmore: He did throw away his career.

Rob Shallenberger: I thought he came back just before throwing it, but he actually threw it away.

Jon Skidmore: Yeah, he had a scholarship all lined up, he was a senior in high school, he performed at a high school awards assembly. His post-performance bashing was so effective and so brutal he resigned his scholarship, and he quit playing his cello. Two years later, when I met him, we talked, there were tears in his eyes as he realized, “I didn’t have to do that.” I mean, the tears were just swelling up and rolling down his cheeks. He did not know how to do that debrief. And I’m sure a lot of people tried to talk to him about this, like, “Don’t do this! Don’t do this.” But he got stuck in that monkey chatter, he got stuck in his midbrain, he was not able to move out of that. And that’s what anxiety can do for us. It can just lock us in a prison in our own mind, and we want to find those keys that’ll open those doors, open those windows so we’re free to move and start to step into and live and create the vision that inspires us.

Rob Shallenberger: And you know, it’s interesting, you just mentioned something, and as we get ready to wrap this up, one of the consequences of not dealing with anxiety or postponing doing something about it is avoidance tends to become one of the de facto coping strategies. In other words, I’m so positive that every single person listening to this podcast has had something happen to them, and then they have avoided it in the future, to not repeat that “bad experience”. Because now is a coping strategy. We’ve all done it, to a degree. And the more we procrastinate dealing with this anxiety, these performance issues, the worst things tend to get the more it begins to snowball, and this is why the book is so powerful, and the five stages can help any one of us take these things, identify what’s causing them in the first place and then walk through the five stages and apply these powerful tools to it. Because avoidance cost this young man his scholarship, based on one single bad performance in front of his school. And, in the book, we walk through the whole debrief that would have hypothetically happened, and what the other alternative outcome could have been for him – which is why I was thinking in my mind, because we came up with this hypothetical alternative for him. I’m just suggesting it doesn’t have to be that way anymore. We understand how debilitating, how frustrating things like that can be. Coping with avoidance is not the right approach – and that’s why these five stages are such a heaven-sent to help us see a way forward through this powerful emotion.

Jon Skidmore: And this what’s so exciting about it because, again, as I’ve watched people embrace these five stages, I see their willingness to get out there and move forward, that sense of “I can do things” increases, their quality goes up, and their enjoyment goes up. And that’s what the five stages can do for us.

Rob Shallenberger: Yeah, that’s the idea, right? So Jon, thanks for coming in again. It’s so great to visit with you. Jon’s become such a good friend, we love him. And it’s just been awesome to see what has come from this partnership, and it’s been a joy to write this book together with you. And so, thanks again for joining us on this podcast.

Jon Skidmore: It is such a pleasure to be here! It’d be hard to shut me up. I got lots of things I can say. So, invite me back anytime, and I will be here. And it’s great to share what we know also on our Facebook page.

Rob Shallenberger: I’m glad you brought that up! There is a Facebook group that we created, called Conquer Anxiety. It has the cover of the book on there – we’ll just call it a subsidiary page of Becoming Your Best; search for Conquer Anxiety on Facebook and join the Facebook group. Jon will post there periodically, usually a couple of times a week. I’ll post there periodically. Other people can post there and share their thoughts, ideas, concerns. So, we’d really like to grow this group of people to help. It’s nice to have a common place where you can share thoughts, concerns, ideas, or ask questions.

Jon Skidmore: And feel free to ask questions. We’ll get back with those and it’s an exciting place to start developing the conversation about conquering anxiety and really stepping into life, living our vision breaking out of those things that are interfering with our visions.

Rob Shallenberger: I’m glad you brought that up! So yeah, Facebook group Conquer Anxiety – join that awesome group. I think there’s, I don’t know how many on there right now but it’s growing. I think it’s 700 or so; something like that. Anyway. And then, the second part is, if you haven’t gotten the book, you can get it on Amazon or any other place – Audiobook is available. has a course where you can see every single thing that’s in the book displayed and shown as an example as to how to do it – which at least for me, is very helpful as a visual person to see how to do it. And the online course is just $99 and it comes with an electronic handbook with it. It’s an awesome course! So, we hope this has been helpful for you to walk through the five stages. We invite you to share this with your friends, your family {members, anyone who you think would benefit from listening to this podcast and who could apply some of these stages. Again, thank you for being here. We wish you a wonderful day and a fabulous week!

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