This makes my brain freeze

Here’s something you may or may not know about me. I hate doing anything on the fly. The moment someone plonks me into a situation I hadn’t anticipated, especially if I’m supposed to look and sound competent, my brain freezes and I become incoherent.

Example – Our choir leader decides to make us sing an improvisation of our name or to contribute to a group jam session…

Example – In a creative writing workshop the instructor gives us 10 minutes to write an opening paragraph or come up with a rough plot outline for any old random story…

Example – In a business workshop we’re asked to come up with a pitch detailing the services of the company…

Each of these situations flings me into something of a mild panic and I cannot seem to think. I said earlier that my brain freezes, but this isn’t strictly true. In fact, my brain begins to whirl madly as it searches for the perfect response, but it’s like a stone skipping over water.

I prefer to plan. To consider. To weigh options. To tinker and massage and practise. To do things well, er, perfectly.

Improvisation? Bleurgh! Especially if there are several faces all turned in my direction. Especially if I care about making a good impression…

It’s not that I can’t think on my feet. I can. It’s just I find it hard to think on my feet when I feel as though I am on show.

Or when there’s a lot riding on it…

Example – I’m in the bar chatting to a publishing industry professional who asks me “what’s your novel about?”

Ack! There’s a hint to go prepare an answer to this question before heading to the next World Fantasy Convention in October.

Doing as much preparation as possible, trying to predict every contingency, is the main way I counteract this phobia. But I do need to get better at dealing with things on the fly, because improvisation is not always avoidable. I think the first step is accepting that I’m rarely judged by others as harshly as I judge myself.

How do you feel about acting on the fly? If that doesn’t faze you, what DOES propel you out of your comfort zone and how do you combat it?


15 thoughts on “This makes my brain freeze

  1. I am painfully shy, so I have this problem, too. I used to teach photography classes, and I had problems when I had to explain things. Because each person will take away something different, and I’m not a techie with it, more of an intuitive photographer so…I was usually saying things like: “You push this button and do this and then that and it’ll work.” Problem is, some people need the technical talk. So it was an ongoing struggle. (I also have a phobia of looking stupid, so this was tough). Sometimes I felt like I shouldn’t be teaching, despite the fact that I was hired without a Master’s degree b/c of my experience level (and they normally require a Master’s degree). I’d usually try to take deep breaths and take it one step at a time. Usually, more often than not, I’d be at least functional enough not to make a fool of myself.


    1. I resort to taking deep breaths too… and I TRY to break down my thinking into one step at a time, but it doesn’t always work. Sometimes I’m so paralysed I back away and fall in a virtual heap on the floor. Hate it when I do that. So annoyed with myself afterwards for looking like an idiot. (But in a perverse way, I’d rather look like an idiot for backing out than for doing whatever it was badly — go figure!) Thanks for sharing and letting me know I’m not alone in this!


      1. Siri and Ellen, I still have issues calling people at work, especially with bad news or to collect money. Or cold calls for marketing purposes. I have a stack of leads to call just waiting for me. Only way I’ve been able to do it is by calling a few a day. (And hope my boss doesn’t want them done quickly).


        1. I’m not sure anyone would find it easy to call with bad news or to collect money… still, I’m with you! On the marketing too. I think some people really love the hunt and the “kill” when it comes to sales. I really don’t!


  2. Hello, Erin! 🙂 I have the same problem…this is why I hate talking on the phone to people I need to make appointments with or find out information from, work colleagues, and so on. Luckily, my job involves doing most things in writing — I think much better through the keyboard (surprise, surprise). Just need to figure out how to convert all my phone conversations outside of work to email…


    1. Yeah, I used to be terrified of ringing people! I’ve gotten over the worst of it, but I still prepare scripts for myself if I’m ringing up about important work-related things. I am SOOO much better on email (in writing) than on the phone. Which is not to say I don’t use the phone, but I do have to psych myself up for it sometimes.


  3. I’m often pretty meticulous about stuff and like to consider options and bring a certain amount of perfectionism to most things, but every once in a while a need to think or act spontaneously makes itself known. I’d like to be able to encourage that to happen more. Making plans to handle different contingencies can be an efficient way to manage one’s time in case something doesn’t work out as expected, but I sometimes have trouble with too much planning, which means I’m using up time that I could spend better elsewhere.

    It’s a tough balance 🙂


  4. I have trouble with being put on the spot too. I get all flustered and kinda have a mini blackout and I can’t remember what I have said sometimes. It’s a problem. I just try to prepare as best I can.

    When I finish my novel, I’m going to prepare the hell outta myself, lol 😉


  5. I’m in the same boat with ya. I’d like to be better at spontaneity, especially speaking in front of other people on the fly. I HATE public speaking and have been told by numerous people that it gets easier the more you do it. Hasn’t happened yet.

    I like your reminder to yourself that you’re harder on yourself than others are. I often tell myself this one: no one is thinking about what you’re doing/what you look like/how you sound as much as you are because they’re most likely preoccupied with the same concerns about themselves. (Somehow it sounds better in my head than typed out here…)


    1. Have you read Olivia Joules? Coz your second mantra is very similar to one of Olivia’s… Which is definitely worth remembering! (“No one is thinking about you, they’re thinking about themselves, just like you” – or similar)

      As for public speaking – once again, if I KNOW the topic really well, I’m only a little bit daunted. Otherwise – ack!


I'd love to hear from you...

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s