A little anxiety can derail the most well-prepared presentation. A little anger can derail an important conversation with a friend or loved one. A little fear can keep you from pursuing your goals. A little self-consciousness can distract you from being your best in any situation. What to do? Fortunately, there’s an easy focusing technique, used by one of the greatest singers in history, to move past destructive emotions and crippling self-doubt, and quickly get in the zone and live up to your true potential.
Enrico Caruso is arguably the greatest singer of the last 100 years, or of any era. Although Caruso died in 1921, several decades later the Metropolitan Opera was still receiving more fan mail about him then about any living singers.
He was the first person to sell over a million copies of a recording - in an era when the internet and streaming services did not exist, and selling a million copies of anything was unheard of. To this day, Caruso remains one of those rare performers who is literally in a class by himself – so much so that he is rarely compared to anyone else.
But for all his ability and fame, Caruso was still human. Just like you, even superstars can get nervous, battle with stage fright, and get sidelined by their own thoughts.
Focus on the “Big Me” for Big Results
Before one performance, Caruso suddenly became so fearful that his ability to sing at all was in doubt. As stage fright began to wash over him, he felt his throat constrict. He began to sweat and shake. And yet he was supposed to go on stage in just a few minutes.
As the story is told, Caruso was heard to say, “They’ll laugh at me. I can’t sing.” Then he became quiet and began to pull himself together. And he said audibly, but to himself, “ The ‘little me’ wants to strangle the ‘Big Me’ within. Move out ‘little me’ – the ‘Big Me’ would like to sing through me. Get out, get out – the ‘Big Me’ is going to sing!”
And Caruso then went on stage and wowed the audience as he always did.
What’s caused this sudden transformation? What is the “Big Me” and the “little me”? And how can you use the principles behind this technique as Caruso did to be your best in any situation and not let distracting thoughts or emotions get in the way.
The “Big Me” Method to Get in the Zone
Some attribute Caruso’s Big Me/little me terminology to the subconscious and conscious mind. Operate from your subconscious mind without letting the conscious mind get in the way, so the thinking goes, and you’ll achieve a state of peak performance.
Although this state of mind can be ideal in certain circumstances – particularly artistic performances and sports – for many everyday activities, we really do need our conscious mind as well. It’s also unrealistic for many of us because accessing our subconscious mind while in a conscious state is no easy feat for the uninitiated.
Fortunately, there’s a much easier way to get out of your own way as Caruso did, and this method will work in virtually any situation – giving a presentation or speech, having a difficult conversation, overcoming procrastination, diffusing stress or anger or any other unproductive emotion, or simply bringing a more focused mind to your daily activities while minimizing both internal distractions and the impact of external ones.
The method is as effective as it is simple. You don't need to use the specific Big Me/little me terminology as Caruso did. Versions of this method can be found in the meditative techniques of several spiritual traditions, and it has recently become more popular in contemporary mindfulness work. Unfortunately, it is rarely explained in practical terms that can be easily implemented.
Here are the step by step instructions of the basic method, with a few additions I’ve added to the technique based on my work with clients that make it even more powerful:
1. Close your eyes. If you are in a public place where it is impossible to close your eyes, you can also do this with eyes open. However, to start, eyes closed is preferable. Working with this method with eyes open will become easier once you’ve worked with it for a while.
2. Ask yourself, “What am I thinking about?”
3. Stand back and simply watch your thoughts. Watch them as if from a distance. There is you and there are your thoughts. The two are not the same.
You can pretend you are watching a movie or listening to a conversation. Your sole function is to be an observer. Just observe your thoughts – nothing more.
If your eyes are closed, you can also observe any images that come into your awareness. Again, don’t get involved with them in any way. Simply observe. If you find yourself getting sidetracked or involved with the thoughts, stand back and ask yourself again, "What am I thinking about?" Repeat as necessary.
4. If you are feeling an unpleasant emotion, just as you distantly observe your thoughts, observe the emotion. Watch it. Notice if it manifests itself as a physical feeling anywhere in your body (it usually does).
5. As you continue to observe any thoughts, images and emotions, notice also that there is a silence underneath all of your thoughts. That silence never stops. It is literally eternal.
Each thought or image you have comes out of that silence, exists for a time, and then returns back to the silence. The silence remains. See if you can notice the silence that is underneath your thoughts and that exists along with your thoughts. Once you experience that silence, allow yourself to observe both the silence and the thoughts.
6. You will also likely notice that, if you are experiencing an unproductive emotion, you have thoughts and possibly images associated with that emotion, which fuel it. Continue to observe those thoughts and images from a distance.
When you become an observer of your thoughts, they will start to slow down. They will become less intense, as will your emotions.
The “Big Me” is you the observer – the you that can take in everything, the you that is fully in control. The “little me” are those thoughts and feelings that dart around your mind uncontrolled.
Allow the “Big Me” – you, the observer – to simply observe the “little me” of your thoughts, and you’ll discover a level of control you didn’t know you had. The self-consciousness of the “little me” will dissipate, allowing the “Big Me” to let you function at your highest capacity.
You are not (yet) as experienced with this as Caruso, and so telling your “little me” to get lost might take some practice. But keep at it, and you'll be a superstar before you know it.