Don’t Believe Everything You Think!

Most performers have had a big audition, that important performance, or the competition that they’ve worked six months to prepare for, raise their anxiety level.   This anxiety level can be manifest in one of several ways:  in your body (somatically), in your mind (cognitively), and ultimately, in your performances.

Somatic or bodily symptoms of music performance anxiety are a result of the autonomic nervous system—that mostly unconscious and involuntary part of our make-up that tells us to “Fight!” or  “Flee!” or “Freeze!”  These symptoms can include dry mouth, muscle tremors or tightness, nausea, insomnia, sweating, increased heart rate, and frequent urination.   Some of these symptoms although brought about by an involuntary, unconscious response, can be prevented or relieved on a conscious level.

If you are one of these performers who struggles with the physical symptoms of performing, it is important to take a good look at what you are thinking about your performing because it can definitely affect how your body responds.  Don’t believe everything you think!

When you catch yourself thinking or obsessing on things like:

  • Focusing on the past or future: “I can’t believe I missed that shift.” or “I am so nervous about playing the 2nd movement.”
  • Focusing on mistakes or weaknesses:  “I flubbed my first entrance!” or “I’m crazy awful at auditions!”
  • Focusing exclusively on outcomes:“I need to impress this judging panel.” or “I have to win.”
  • Focusing on things that are out of your control:  “These acoustics are awful—I’m going to suck!” or “My regular accompanist couldn’t play for me so I’ll totally lose!”
  • Expecting perfection from yourself“I have to win!”  “If I mess up, I’ll just die!”

The first step is to recognize whether you have one of these thinking patterns so you can learn to change your inner dialogue to one that will really help you instead of one that keeps you anxious and under-performing.

Take a look at the above self-talk patterns and the way you can turn these patterns around:

  • Focusing on the past or future:   All you can control is what you do in the present.
  • Focusing on mistakes or weaknesses:  Acknowledge areas in need of improvement in practice and work on them.  When it comes to performance, rely on your practice and work to eliminate any practicing in public!! (Don’t beat yourself up or keep evaluating and trying to correct yourself during performances!)
  • Focusing exclusively on outcomes: Remember that you can only control your own performance.  Keep your focus on what you can do to stay in the moment.
  • Focusing on things that are out of your control:  This robs your performance of the focus you need to play or sing your best and will rob you of the joy you can have as a performer.
  • Expecting perfection from yourselfThis will never end well.  Expecting the impossible will set you up for frustration and disappointment.  Expect excellence preparation.  Expect the best effort from yourself.  Expect that you will give the most expressive performance you have ever given.

Look at the list above and reflect on your own thought processes.  Which kinds of thoughts do you have that are causing your somatic symptoms and are holding you back?  Print out this post and write the thoughts you most often have next to the category, then, rewrite your thought in a positive, productive way.  When re-writing, remember the following:

  1. Keep your phrases positive, short, and specific.
  2. Use the first person and present tense.
  3. Repeat your phrases to yourself with meaning and attention.
  4. Write them or type them and print them out and post them where you will see them often.
  5. Speak kindly to yourself EVERY DAY!

Now, it’s your turn:

  • Focusing on the past or future:
  • Focusing on mistakes or weaknesses:  
  • Focusing exclusively on outcomes:
  • Focusing on things that are out of your control: 
  • Expecting perfection from yourself:  

When you work on recognizing your negative self-talk and start taking steps to make positive changes to these thought processes, you will start to see changes in your body’s response to performances, auditions, and competitions.

Significant change will not happen overnight, but stick to it!  And remember, if you don’t like the things you hear yourself thinking or saying—change it!

For more on Self-Talk, check out:

Want to find out more about taking your performing to the next level?   Check out The Relaxed Musician Program:  Mental Preparation for Confident Performances, A 14-Day Plan   Download Day 1 workbook and audio to see how the program can work for you.  With purchase, you will receive 2 great bonuses—Your Pre-Performance Checklist and the e-book, Letting Go of the Need to be Perfect!

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