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!
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