Prior to performance do you think about the mistakes you made in your last performance or do you worry about the mistakes you might make today? Do you want to perform well so badly that you practice right up to performance day and sometimes continue to “fix” and self-coach even during the performance? After the performance, is it difficult to let go of mistakes because you keep beating yourself up for not playing or singing better? When people compliment your performance, do you often deflect their comments with, “I didn’t do as well as I would have liked.” or “Well, but what about that note in measure 13?”
Many musicians who have a perfectionist approach to performing can struggle under the pressure of public performance. Perfectionism can keep you from reaching your full potential because you become anxious, tense, and you try to over-control your performance–all signs of music performance anxiety.
Performers who strive for excellence and musical artistry and who work so diligently to achieve their dreams are highly susceptible to perfectionist thinking. It’s not surprising that a strong work ethic can quickly go beyond excellence and turn into trying too hard. Striving for perfection can cause performers to set unrealistic goals and to focus on outcomes and results. Perfectionism shows itself in many ways including fear of failure, fear of embarrassment or of making mistakes, worrying about results, and sometimes the loss of motivation or even the loss of your love of playing or singing.
What makes this a tricky challenge for musicians is that there are clear advantages to perfectionism especially when it comes to practice. They include having a strong work ethic, an intense commitment to your goals, and a willingness to continue learning and improving. These advantages are what can mask this extremely difficult mental barrier to performing freely without performance anxiety and fear.
We find it difficult to convince performers who strive to be perfect that it really does hold them back. They resist having to change the beliefs that have seemingly helped them achieve some of their goals. As a perfectionist, you unknowingly adopt very high expectations about your performance. Not achieving these expectations can result in frustration, anxious feelings of failure, and low confidence. High expectations about winning, being cast in the part, winning the position, or performing perfectly leave musicians feeling frustrated or helpless.
Perfectionists think that maintaining strict expectations is a good thing—what every musician should do, and that the only other option is accepting mediocrity. If failing to meet your expectations causes you to become frustrated and become overly fearful, this will block you from achieving your full performing potential.
We teach our students to identify and discard strict expectations and to let go of frustration so they can stay composed after mistakes and perform in the present moment without dwelling on the past.
Maintaining high expectations is just one of challenges we teach our students how to overcome. Are there advantages to having perfectionist tendencies? Check out the upcoming post entitled: Perfectionism Isn’t All Bad–What?!
How can we help you become a confident, less anxious performer? What are your personal perils of trying to be perfect? Please post your comment below.