The ABCs of Self-Talk for Musicians

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As we discussed last time in Self-Talk—Friend or Foe?, chatter constantly runs through our heads as automatic thoughts, or as conscious thinking playing inner critic or inner coach to bolster our performing confidence.

Greek philosopher, Epictetus said:  “We are not disturbed by things, but by the views which we take of them.”  Let’s really look at this statement.  What if this is true?  What if it isn’t the memory slip or singing at the audition or performing in front of a huge crowd that is what makes you anxious or fearful?  What if it is the thoughts we have about these things that is what’s really making us feel this way?

I’m here to tell you there’s no ‘what if’ about it.  THAT IS what is happening.  Our thoughts are not always our reality!  Here’s where the ABCs come in:

A = Activating Event (missing or flubbing the high note)

B = Belief about that Event (It is extremely AWFUL that I missed that note!  Resulting thought:  “I’m awful or stupid!”)

C = Consequences (Almost miss next entrance and can’t sustain the last note)

Let’s think of other examples:

A = Bad acoustics            
B = I can’t hear myself—therefore, I can’t sing or play.           
C = Change the WAY you sing or play and don’t perform as well
A = 8 AM audition           
B = Nobody can sing that early in the morning.                       
C = Change the WAY you sing and don’t perform as well
A = High note coming     
B = I always have trouble here.                                                    
C = Get nervous and have trouble.

“We are not disturbed by things, but by the views which we take of them.”   —Epictetus

Smart guy  that Epictetus!  It is not necessarily the event, but our belief about that event, that causes us to feel or perform a certain way.  The meaning we attach to these events can positively or negatively impact our emotions, behaviors, and ultimately our performances!!

However distorted or ineffective the thought, there is HOPE—these thoughts or thinking patterns are learned, so they can be unlearned.  First, we must become aware of our thought patterns.  Once we are aware, we can practice stopping them and disputing them and changing the thought habit altogether.  Change process:

 Detect:        Become aware of your unconscious thought patterns.  Ask yourself:
                        What are your common automatic thoughts or inaccurate self-talk?
                        What makes you anxious about performing?  What thoughts do you detect?
Detour:       THOUGHT STOPPING—uses intense cues such as a word
                        (STOP!) or an image (STOP sign) or movement (WAVE) to stop the
                        stream of negative thoughts as quickly as possible so can reframe
                        the situation
Dispute:     Put your negative thoughts on trial—what’s the evidence?
                        Look for productive ways to view the situation.
                        Look for solutions NOT the same old excuse!

Once you have become aware of the negative thought patterns that contribute to your performance anxiety and your fear or dread about performing, you can begin to stop these patterns and incorporate more positive and effective thoughts.

The following are some examples of the kinds of effective thoughts that can keep your mind focused on how to perform your best:

Positive Affirmations:  thoughts that focus on your desirable characteristics & qualities
“I am a quick study.”  “I am a good performer.”  “I love performing.”
Goals:  thoughts that keep your mind positively focused on the here and now.  They promote high effort & enhance persistence.
“I am committed to this moment.”  “What do I hear/feel in this phrase, this movement today?” 
Useful Appraisals:  thoughts that determine the degree to which a situation is perceived as threatening (negative) or challenging (positive).
   “Although this audition means a lot, all I can do is my best and that’s good enough for today!”
Realistic Attributions:  reasons or explanations for success and failure
   “I am a success when I work my hardest and do my best.”  “The only way I can fail is if I do not try.”
Effective Cue or Trigger Words:  quick reminder thoughts used during practice and competition—keep mind positively focused!
“GO for it!”  “Let it go!”  “CALM!”  “BOLD!”  “I CAN!”

Accurate and positive self-talk can be VERY useful and have many positive benefits for performers.  This effective self-talk:

  • Elevates Motivation:  accurate & positive self-talk can help performers feel competent and in control and can keep them motivated
  • Enhances Focus/Concentration:  effective self-talk helps performers focus on their priorities & goals, rather than on distractions
  • Reduces Stress:  controlling negative or self-defeating thoughts helps minimize the amount of stress performers can feel
  • Boosts Self-Confidence:  persuasive self-talk can convince performers that they possess the competence & preparation to be successful
  • Maximizes Skill Development and Performance:  cues & goals can help performers remain focused on performance-relevant cues while practicing & performing in the moment

With practice and patience you will begin to change your thought patterns and your beliefs about yourself and your performing.   Remember, with most changes we need to make, it is our choice to do so.  Make the choice to examine your thought patterns and start making the changes you need to make today!

Leave a comment and let me know how you’ve already made some of these changes or are in the process of doing so!

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.

Want a program that addresses this very topic?  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.  Through August 14, 2012, take 40%  off the regular price and download 2 great bonuses!

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