Mental Toughness in Performers

A powerful force in the life of your performing will be your level of mental toughness.  This toughness comes from responding to negative messages (thoughts & emotions) in an appropriate way.  Being a mentally tough performer means that under the pressure of competition you can maintain a present focus and continue to think constructively, non-defensively, positively, and realistically–and do it with calm clarity.

Make no mistake—mental toughness is not born, but learned like any other skill.  If you don’t have it, it simply means you haven’t learned it YET.  Anyone can learn to get tougher—to become more relaxed and calm—at any stage in his or her life or performing.

You may have the talent of a Pavarotti, a Yo Yo Ma, a Lang Lang, a Joshua Bell, or a Rampal, but if you don’t have toughness, you may never reach your full potential.   Only through toughness can you discover your real limits.

You KNOW how many talented performers there are out there.  The limiting factor for most performers is not TALENT, but mental TOUGHNESS!!

An ideal performance state (IPS) exists for every singer.  It is simply the optimal state of physiological and psychological arousal or energy for performing at your peak.  Arousal is reflected in heart rate, muscle tension, blood pressure, and other measures.  IPS is accompanied by a distinctive pattern of feelings and emotions.  You are most likely to experience your IPS and perform at your peak when you feel:

  • Confident
  • Relaxed and calm
  • Energized with position emotion
  • Challenged
  • Focused and alert
  • Automatic and instinctive
  • Ready for fun and enjoyment

Those of you who have read anything about FLOW, might recognize these criteria.

Finally, remember that mental toughness is all about total engagement—mental, emotional, and physical—being totally immersed in what you are doing!

What we think and visualize, how we act, when and what we eat, the quantity and quality of our sleep and rest can ALL have profound effects on our emotional state at any given time.

Mental toughness calls for learning when, how, and what to think and visualize before, during, and after competition to get the desired effect emotionally.

Being tough mentally means that you have acquired skills in thinking, believing, and visualization that enable you to:

  • Readily access empowering emotions during competition
  • Quickly change from a negative emotional state to a positive one
  • Cope emotionally with mistakes and failures
  • Trigger an Ideal Performance State
  • Cope with crisis and adversity

Being mentally tough is what every performer needs in order to get out of their performances what they put into them in practice.  If you struggle with performing as well as you practice or you get anxious to the point that it interferes with your performing, you will want to learn the mental strategies it takes to stay calm and relaxed in the face of fear, worry, and anxiety.  Next time we will discuss Strategies for Becoming Mentally Tough.

You know that I would always like to hear about your experiences as a performer—what helps and what hinders your ability to stay calm and relaxed both prior to and during performance.  Please leave me a comment.

If you haven’t already, sign up today to receive my monthly performance tips by downloading my free mp3 program, Mental Strategies for Peak Performance in Music:  CLICK HERE.

Print Friendly


  1. Anne Kimball says:

    I have spent many years performing as an accompanist on piano to soloists, small ensembles, and large choral groups. The past 4 years, I began to study the organ. I have found that I’m back to being a beginner where performance anxiety is concerned. Usually what happens is I start out playing fine but lose concentration as I get into the piece and that’s when it starts to go wrong and I get really nervous. My solution has been to put myself in performing situations as often as I can to try to learn how to cope with these nerves. I’m playing a organ recital in Sept. with some rather difficult pieces. I have performed most (but not all) of these pieces as preludes or postludes in church in front of about 200 people each time. I have found that the more I perform a piece the better it gets. However, I would like some method/strategy to help me perform it to the best of my ability the first time I play it.

    • Dr. Diana Allan says:

      Hi Anne! Thanks so much for commenting. It’s good to hear from you! It is not surprising to hear that you have felt like a beginning performer as an organist. As a pianist you had, over time, learned to focus well, deal with distractions, and cope with anxiety. You learned to be confident in your ability to perform. Now that you are performing on organ, it is just as necessary to build your confidence–the strong belief in your ability and skills as an organist. Putting yourself in performance situations gives you the opportunity to practice your performance skills. However, you will want to work on your performance skills in practice as well. One method or strategy you can use is to devote a portion of every practice session to trusting your preparation by deliberately shutting off your evaluative thoughts and accepting/trusting your preparation. Simulating the performance situation in practice really helps you to practice performing. I can’t wait for you to check out our new workbook, The Relaxed Musician, where you will learn how to specifically target the challenges that hold you back and keep you from performing calmly and confidently.

  2. Anne Kimball says:

    Please let me know when it’s ready. I surely need the help!

Leave a Reply to Anne Kimball Cancel reply