Sometimes, nearly hitting a goal can be just as inspiring as actually achieving it. While this concept might be somewhat counterintuitive, there has been quite a bit of research into this phenomenon that I was made aware of listening to a Hidden Brain podcast titled, “Near Wins, And Not Quites: How Almost Winning Can Be Motivating.”
Through interviews and citing the research of his guests, Shankar Vedantam explores this possibility, presenting some interesting findings. According to the research of Monica Wadhwa, who as a young girl felt the thrill of almost winning the lottery, coming very close to a goal can motivate you to win something else that comes up. For her it was a big exam in school, but for you it could easily be the next audition, big job interview, or fantasy football matchup (which I’m sure for some of you will matter greatly in the coming months).
There are a lot of interesting implications in this idea. However, I think for this effect to be really powerful, we also have to frame our “failures” in the right way. Instead of reacting as if the world screwed you over in some way, get excited about how close you got! Think about what you can do to push yourself to the next level that might get you to the goal you just barely missed.
A couple years ago a was a finalist in a principal horn audition for an orchestra, but I didn’t win the job. I was disappointed, but also really excited! I was so close! After that, I was able to ride that excitement and keep working hard toward whatever opportunity was going to come my way next.
Think about a recent “miss” and notice how you respond. How can you alter your outlook to spin a failure into motivation? This is not always an easy task. Take some time to process the failure, but think about what you can do to push yourself over the edge next time. You might even discover you are creating obstacles for yourself, an idea we are going to discuss next week...
If I made a list of the most helpful habits for a performer to get into, meditation would probably be number one. After I incorporated some daily meditation into my routine, I saw positive results almost immediately in many areas in my life. I saw a reduction in daily stress, better focus during performance, less pre-performance anxiety, better sleep, and better time management.
I used to be a really nervous performer, and before most concerts I would experience things like increased pulse, sweating, upset stomach, dry mouth, and during the performance there were times I felt very little control over my playing. That sucked. It’s no fun to feel this way. But since starting my meditation practice of around 10-20 minutes a day, I have notice a drastic decrease in the afflictions listed above.
When I mention to people that they should try meditation, I often see a look of, “oh geeze, you’re one of THOSE people?” Try to put aside any preconceptions and at least take a closer look at something that you could really benefit from. Before we move on, check out this fun video that serves as an introduction to meditation (by Gobblynne).
I’m a big fan of Tim Ferriss, and I stumbled across this article he wrote for The Observer on meditation titled, “The One Routine—Yes, One!—Common to Billionaires, Icons and World-Class Performers.” If that title doesn’t say it all, here is a quote from the article:
“Of all the routines and habits, the most consistent among guests was some form of daily meditation or mindfulness practice. More than 80% of the world-class performers I interviewed shared this trait. Both can be thought of as cultivating a present-state awareness that helps you to be nonreactive.”
That list of 80% includes famous actor/governors, elite athletes, musicians, writers, and billionaires, all of whom practice meditation in some form. So don’t you think you should give it a chance? Yes? Awesome! So where do you go from here?
There are a TON of options for meditation, and it can feel a bit overwhelming at first. Here are a few places to start:
Your weekly charge:
Find 10 minutes a day (preferably in the morning) for one week to do some kind of meditation. Make the commitment to yourself to do this for one week, and I promise you will start to see a difference. I strongly suggest trying 10-15 minute guided meditations at first, because this will give you something to focus on and will give you a concrete end time to shoot for.
Make notes in your journal of how you feel as the week progresses. Are you seeing any positive changes in yourself? How do you respond to problems or frustrations that arise? Think about that last word from Tim’s quote above: nonreactive. I think you will find a noticeable change after seven days. Trust me (and lots of people who are way more successful) and give this a shot!
How often does this scenario play out after a concert:
Bill: Hey Amy, that was a beautiful solo you played in the second movement!
Amy: Oh, well I totally played the last last F# really flat, but I’m just happy it’s over. You should have heard me in the dress rehearsal! It sounded horrible! Hahahaha!
Sound familiar? I have heard exchanges like this many times after many concerts, and have played both of these rolls myself many times. Not only is this damaging to the performer’s self-confidence, it also undermines whoever is giving the compliment. Shooting down a friend’s compliment sends the message that you don’t respect their opinion. Either way, this is not a good situation.
Last week I read Gay Hendrick’s book, The Big Leap and in this book he labels this kind of response, “Deflecting.” As he describes it, deflecting prevents positive feelings of success from getting home either from an outside source (Bill from my example above) or from one’s self. This type of reaction to a compliment never allows for the performer to truly accept any level of success. Musicians are very good at picking up on what we did poorly, but usually find it much more difficult to talk about positives from their performance.
Here is your weekly charge:
When someone gives you a compliment make the first words out of your mouth, “thank you!” Here is an example of a much healthier interaction between Amy and Bill:
Bill: Hey Amy, that was a beautiful solo you played in the second movement!
Amy: Oh, thank you Bill! I’m happy you enjoyed it. Thanks for coming to the concert!
Here, Amy thanked and acknowledged Bill for the compliment, and reserving any self-criticisms for later reflection. Even though Amy might have felt a note or two weren’t great, it is much more productive to examine that later, when she can make a constructive plan to address these issues in the practice room. Amy also acknowledged the importance of Bill’s (the listener’s) opinion, reminding herself that what really matters is how her music come across to the audience.
You can practice this skill in a variety of situations beyond your musical experiences. Notice how you react to compliments on your clothing or appearance, and work on making your default response a heartfelt “thank you!” Self-deprecation and deflection of external compliments doesn’t help anything. If you want something about yourself or your music to change, make a plan of action and set some new goals! Much more on that to come in future posts…
Your Weekly Charge
Give a friend a compliment after a concert. Be sincere with your comment and notice how your friend responds. How did you feel when someone deflected your compliment? Also, pay attention when someone else gives you a compliment. If you deflected it in some way, how did you feel afterwards? Make some entries in your journal about these experiences, and if you want to share your findings, please leave comments below!
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