If you are a performer who struggles with performance anxiety or you can’t seem to perform as well as you practice, you may want to take a look at to what and where you are paying attention. Most performers who are anxious or fearful are paying attention to things outside of their control. The ability to concentrate in the present and to focus on the specific task at hand is extremely important to your performing.
If your attention is in the wrong place or divided between the task at hand and the results, you are cutting your skills in half. When it comes time to deliver, stay focused on what’s important right now.
A Chinese sage had this to say many centuries ago: “When the archer shoots for no particular prize, he has all his skills; when he shoots to win a brass buckle, he is already nervous; when he shoots for a gold prize, he can’t focus, sees two targets, and is out of his mind.”
I’ve heard it told this way as well: An archer competing for a clay vessel shoots effortlessly, his skill and concentration unimpeded. If the prize is changed to a brass ornament, his hands begin to shake. If it is changed to gold, he squints as if he cannot see. His abilities do not deteriorate, but his belief in them does, as he allows the supposed value of a reward to cloud his vision.
Shooting for No Particular Prize
When we perform with our trigger words in mind—for joy, with calm or with confidence, for enjoyment, —(the reason we got into this business!)—we have complete access to our skills. Our minds remain only on the act of performing. Nothing more and nothing less is needed from us at this point. Staying focused on what we need to do right now helps us achieve our result.
Notice what happens to the archer and you as the rewards change or when we consider the “stakes to be high.” Now that the archer is shooting for a brass buckle, he thinks more of the goal and less of what he is doing to achieve the goal. Yet it’s the same target, the same bow and arrow.
Don’t divide your Attention
No matter how big or small the consequences are, what the goal looks like, or who happens to be around you, strive to remain focused on the task at hand. By focusing on the task you increase the odds of getting good results. Worrying about the result only divides your attention. When you divide your attention you are less effective.
Attention is a Skill
You sing or play beautifully at home or in lesson or in practice, but are a less than stellar in an audition? Like the archer, your skills did not change. You were less than effective because you were focused more on winning—on being cast—on making that impression, than on just singing each phrase in succession.
Look at the times when you performed less than expected or experienced mistakes and you will notice that the culprit is often your lack of focus. Your skills did not simply vanish into thin air!
More attention: Better results
When it comes time to perform, monitor your mind and constantly bring it back to this moment, to what is happening now. You cannot possibly deal effectively with something that is merely imagined: the future. Nor can you deal at all with what has already happened: the past!
The kind of Focus we need is a relaxed state of awareness with the ability to shift to a different focus quickly and smoothly as needed.
There are going to be distractions for us in EVERY performance. It is our JOB to look out for them and be READY to maintain our focus and stay in the moment.
The distractions are the UNCONTROLLABLES in our performances. Those things we have no direct control over when we perform, but they tend to get under our skin ANYWAY!
We will discuss today that one of the principles of peak performance is maintaining a “process focus.” However, focusing on uncontrollables is almost always related to the outcome of our performance instead of the process.
So…Let’s identify some of these uncontrollables…
- the room: too cold or too hot, overwhelming—the big stage, the important audition
- the acoustics: can’t hear yourself at all or too live
- the time you perform: too early or very late in the day
- the day you perform: this is a bad day of the month for me or this audition is two days after a big performance—why’d it have to be THIS day?
- how you feel: you woke up with a sore throat or a lot of drainage or stopped up
- who is judging: you know one of the judges—they judged you last time and didn’t like you
- you DON’T know any of the judges
- who is in the audience: my whole family is out there or nobody’s out there or my first teacher who hasn’t heard me in 3 years is out there
- the other performers: he won that competition or she wins everything—why’d she have to come to THIS one?
- other people’s expectations: my teacher said I should win this, so I better! or my mother loaned me the money to fly here so I better do well or I must play well, the audience expects it!
- negative past experiences: last time I performed here it felt awful or last year I really didn’t play or sing well or I always mess up in auditions
- mistakes: missing an entrance or my melismas weren’t clean or ran out of breath on that long phrase
- anything negative that might happen in the future: not making it past the first round or not making the finals or not having a career because of the result of this audition
Focusing on the uncontrollables in your performances will lead to erosion of your confidence and to mistakes. When we perceive that things are not going well—we shift our focus to these uncontrollables—that’s when we give our power over to them.
What about teachers, coaches, parents? Are people uncontrollables?
EVERYONE EXCEPT YOU IS AN UNCONTROLLABLE! This includes what others SAY and DO as well.
Can what teachers, coaches, accompanists, parents, and what other performers say and do cause you to mess up in performance or change the way you perform? NO!!
But they can they make things miserable for you IF YOU LET THEM!
Others cannot affect your performance and your confidence unless YOU let them! Their power over you comes from the power you give them!
Keep your focus on what YOU can control—your playing, your singing, your experience with the music you are performing.
Let me hear from you—leave a comment about how you keep your focus on what is within your control!
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“I’m not going to worry about the things I can’t control, because if I can’t control them there’s no point in worrying bout them; and I’m not going to worry about the things I can control, because if I can control them there’s no point in worrying bout them.” -Mickey Rivers, baseball player