Past Performances—Check Them or Carry-On?

If you have read or heard of the 2008 New York Times bestseller, My Stroke of Insight, you know Dr. Jill Bolte Taylor’s story—a Harvard brain scientist experiencing her own stroke and then, living to tell about it.  Yes, she survived, but the left side of her brain did not.  That meant that all her language, scientific training, and memories of her past life were gone.  After a period of mourning the “death” of her former self, she began to see this “rebirth” as a gift.  She learned to walk and talk again and to move forward without the memories of her past—including the baggage and the pain.   Dr. Jill’s story and message can be a powerful one for performers.

Performers often carry around a lot of baggage—the baggage of past performances.  Our past performances inform us in a number of ways.  They can help us learn.   If we are systematic in our response to a past performance, we can learn from what worked and what didn’t, in order to make adjustments for next time.   “I trusted my practice and didn’t keep practicing that day and it really gave me confidence.” “When I saw the conductor wince, I didn’t automatically thing it was me.” “When I started to doubt my ability to play that quick passage, my internal  ‘go for it’  gave me the confidence to pull it off.”  This bag from our past is light and we carry it and the lessons with us as we improve and grow.

Past performances can also boost your confidence or your belief in your abilities and skills.  It is extremely motivating and confidence building to give a powerful and exhilarating performance—one in which you feel the ease of playing or singing and in control of your every note or phrase.  Reviewing these performances is rewarding because we feel that our hard work has really paid off.  This bag is lighter than air and many performers gladly carry it around and open it up from time to time to remind themselves of the wonderful experience.  Some performers, though, toss this bag out, thinking that their good performance was just luck.  They are just left to hope that they will have the same good fortune the next time.

“Never look back unless you are planning to go that way.”  —Henry David Thoreau

Then there are the past performances that can really weigh you down.  These are the performances that you wish had gone very differently, or maybe you wish that they hadn’t happened at all.  “I really fell apart in the Scherzo?”  “Why did my memory fail me in this performance?”  “I knew I would mess up that high C again—why can’t I ever sing that under pressure?!”   If we continue with the baggage analogy, this bag can be too heavy for us to bear, but many performers will lug this bag around everywhere they go and even open it up and look at it again and again.

This is where Dr. Jill and her story come in.   When she tells her story (and if you haven’t seen her TED talk on this—please check it out: Dr. Jill Bolte Taylor’s Stroke of Insight

What we can learn from Dr. Jill is that what happened to her is available to us.  No, I don’t mean the stroke, but the idea that we don’t have to be controlled by our past performances.  We don’t have to carry them around with us.  We have the capacity to stay in this moment—experience the precious now—every day of our lives.  Of course this will involve dropping our worries, refusing to listen to the discouraging and critical voice in our heads, and refusing to dwell on the past.

You might be thinking right about now, well, what about the good past, those lessons we have to learn?  Yes, we want to learn from our past.  Learn the lesson and go on.  I don’t know about you, but I don’t want to just be as good as I was in that last performance.  I want to be better.  I want to continue to grow without the thought that the former peak performance was all there is for me to aspire to.

When we free ourselves of the past, when we check this excess baggage, by practicing and performing for and in the NOW, we have opened ourselves up to a whole new way being which paves the way for a higher form of doing—here and now performing—the only kind there ever really was in the first place.  Start traveling light and refuse to let the past spoil your ability to enjoy your singing or playing.

Let’s face it—your baggage is not what really happened in that past performance.  That baggage is the thoughts you keep having about that performance or the story you keep telling about yourself and that experience.  Dr. Jill reminds us that at any time, “we can purposely choose to step to the right of our left hemispheres and find…peace.  Then I realized, what a tremendous gift this experience could be.  What a stroke of insight this could be…” to how we live our musical lives and how we perform.

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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