Your Self-Talk—Friend or Foe?

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Everyone has an inner dialogue of little voices—that steady stream of on-going thoughts and images—that constantly goes through their minds on and off the stage.  This dialogue can be your most reliable and best encouragement or can be your worst criticism.

If you have been watching the Olympics, you have witnessed one incredible example after another of performers whose self-talk works for or against them.

Some examples of the kind of thoughts that might be running through your head are:

  • Beliefs about yourself that you think of daily.
  • Statements about yourself that sprinkle into your every­day conversation.
  • Self-deprecating remarks that influence your behavior or beliefs.
  • Descriptions given to you by members of your family or peer group when you were younger onto which you hold even to this day.
  • Feedback you get from your spouse, teachers or coaches, parents or relatives that you take to heart and incorporate into your personal belief system.
  • Self-images you have of body or face or weight.
  • Concepts you have of your performing, that you visualize that influence how you present yourself to others.
  • Assessment you or others have made of your talent, skills, ability, intelligence, creativity or common sense that you have agreed with and thus, believe to be true of you.
  • Stories about your past behavior, failures, or performances that you systematically run over in your mind and which influence your current behavior or performances.

These thoughts can be positive and negative.  Most performers have some of both.  Today we will be discussing the kind of thoughts that can make you anxious and fearful about your performing.

Most of the self-talk we have are considered automatic thoughts.  These thoughts are called “automatic” because they are based on beliefs we have about ourselves and the world around us and seem to  just “pop into” our minds.   Automatic thoughts are based on our core beliefs.  Because of that, we think they are accurate.  Now let’s consider the impact a negative automatic thought can have in an already emotionally charged situation like an audition or a performance!

For example:  Julie was a young soprano who had entered a pre-professional competition.  She was a tremendous performer and had had great success.   She was considered by most to be a rising star.   The beginning of her audition was stellar.  She was singing and performing well, but in the last song—a song she had sung many times before—she had a memory slip and stopped.  Although she started over and finished with a flourish, the damage was done.  She did not go on to the final round and she was crushed.  Since that time, Julie’s confidence and her enjoyment of performing has never been the same.  You know, it’s not the memory slip that has had this effect.  It is what Julie now believes about herself because of it—her self-talk about this incident that she replays every time she competes or performs:  “I’m a choker.”  “I’m just not good in auditions.”  “I have trouble memorizing.”

Although the chatter that runs through our minds are just little voices, there is nothing LITTLE about this issue.  There is nothing LITTLE about the impact what we say to ourselves can have on us and our performing!!!

Just as in Julie’s case, inaccurate self-talk is based on beliefs that are distorted or ineffective.

Common competitive ineffective beliefs:

  • Fear of Failure:  “It will be unbearable to lose!” “Others will not approve of me if I cannot win!”
  • Fear of Success:  “I don’t know if I can live up to what I expect or others expect of a successful performer!”
  • Social Approval:  “I must win the approval of others and impress everyone who sees and hears me perform!”
  • Perfectionism:  “I should be completely competent in every aspect at all times and never make mistakes!”
  • Equity:  “Life should be fair and if I practice hard, I should improve, perform well, and succeed!”
  • Social Comparison:  “The behavior and performances of other performers is extremely important to me and can destroy my chances!”

What we’ve just seen here is that it is not necessarily what happens to us that causes us to feel or act a certain way, but rather how and what we THINK about what happens—how we react!!

“We are not disturbed by what happens to us, but by our thoughts about what happens to us.”   —Epictetus

The good news is that once you become aware of these thought patterns and how they affect you and your performing, you can start doing something about it!  Check in next time to see how to cultivate the kind of self-talk that will be an effective tool to bolster your performing confidence.

If you would like to work one-on-one with someone to help you identify your thought patterns and devise a plan to change them, please don’t hesitate to contact me.

If you haven’t already, subscribe to my site by checking out the free mp3:   Mental Strategies for Peak Performance in Music.  You will receive my monthly performance tips to keep you performing at peak levels.

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.

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