We all talk to ourselves throughout the day, but how much importance to we place on our word choice and the emotional weight we place on those words? It is all too common for excellent musicians to rip themselves apart in the practice room. Why? Sometimes it’s one tiny mistake, where previous to that flowed a stream of breathtaking beauty and performance excellence. The way we react to our own mistakes and the subsequent self-talk that follows, has an enormous effect on us, and our choices in this vocabulary can result in positive or negative outcomes.
I stumbled upon an excellent article by Laura Starecheski titled, “Why Saying Is Believing — The Science Of Self-Talk.” This article discusses the ideas of self-talk and the perception of one’s self through a few different viewpoints: physical appearance in the mirror and the use of addressing one’s self in the third-person. While the ideas discuss regarding physical appearance are very interesting, I am going to focus on constructive ways of formulating self-talk.
Miss Starecheski cites the work of psychologist Ethan Kross of the University of Michigan, and his interesting research into the structure of self-talk. Ethan noticed one day, after some creative driving, that he reprimanded himself by saying, “Ethan, you idiot!” This awareness of the impact of using his name instead of ‘I,’ lead him down a very interesting path of research. "What we find," Kross says, "is that a subtle linguistic shift — shifting from 'I' to your own name — can have really powerful self-regulatory effects."
Interesting, hu? Talking to yourself as an outsider can allow you to be a bit kinder to the ‘other person.’ So the next time you have a daunting passage coming up, or a big audition looming, try to encourage yourself with something like, “You can do this Kevin. Trust yourself. You are a great musician!” Try not to think of this kind of talk as egotistical, but as supporting yourself the way you would support a student or colleague. This is a crucial shift, and if you can change this habit you will be a much happier musician.
Notice when you use negative language directed at yourself at any point in your day, but pay special attention while you are making music. If possible, stop for one minute and think about how you can reword your statement in a helpful and constructive way. If you are in a situation where you cannot stop (i.e. rehearsal), then make a mental note of your comment, write it down during a break, and see if you can reward it when you are free.
As always, if you would like to share your experiences please comment below!
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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