What do you think the number one predictor of performance excellence is? Level of experience? Quality of teacher? Amount of practice? Moderation of nerves? Level of precision? These can all certainly make a difference, but even with all these things in place, there is one factor, without which, your performance will never shine.
Ask any performer what is necessary for success and they will quickly reel off a list as long as your arm… lots of practice, hard work, support, luck, maybe even a big bank account or a sugar daddy! Arguably the most important elements for success are often overlooked. It doesn’t matter how much technical expertise you develop, how many scales you practice, or how much hard work you put in, without developing the core psychological skills for peak performance, even the great virtuosos would struggle.
I’m often asked how performance coaching works and what to expect, so I asked one of my clients if I could share her story. I’ve changed the name for her privacy, but to be honest, this story reminds me of most of my clients! I hope you find it useful to get a better understanding of how performance coaching works and how it could benefit you:)
What we pay attention to, and the length of time we pay attention to it, ultimately determines our reality and the quality and content of our lives.
If I only ever managed to write one blog post, this would be it: the essential message that I desperately want every performer to hear...
How many New Year's resolutions have you made? And how many have you broken?
New Year’s resolutions get a really bad wrap. Too many people write a long list on January 1st and then by February most their resolutions have already fallen by the wayside. Of course the easy conclusion is not to make New Year’s resolutions at all, but this is throwing the baby out with the bathwater. It is not so much the intention to set New Year’s resolutions that is faulty, but the planning and execution of these desires.
With thanksgiving just passed, it seems appropriate to bring up the topic of gratitude. Whilst I haven’t traditionally celebrated Thanksgiving, I've had the pleasure of joining friends at their Thanksgiving celebrations in recent years and was touched by the sentiment of the holiday. Whilst the food was fantastic it was the moment we went around the table and said what we were grateful for that really stayed with me; I was heartened by all the lovely details that my friends chose to focus on. Each were experiencing their own challenges in life, but able to see the silver lining. Some even described their struggles and gave thanks for the resulting learning curve, which was very humbling!
As artists we receive an exorbitant amount of feedback: sometimes it is good, but other times it can feel crushingly critical: too much vibrato; not enough line; you don’t look right; you don’t sound right; you’re too blonde; you’re not blonde enough; not enough expression; not technically accurate; you need to work on this; you need to work on that (and this may all be from the one performance!). It can be especially crushing when you thought you were doing your best to achieve all of these things.
Of course these statements can either cut us to the bone, or slide right off our backs - depending on our interpretation. The same statement can either be a factual suggestion of how you can become even better, or a scathing comment on your worth as both a performer and a human being. The key is in understanding the nature of feedback.
I really enjoyed reading a Guardian article this week entitled “It’ll be alright on the night: how musicians cope with performance stress” - not least of all because it highlighted a number of points that I’m constantly reiterating, and it’s always nice to hear someone agreeing with you!
It’ll be alright on the night...
One thing that didn’t excite me so much was the title but let’s give them the benefit of the doubt and assume that “It’ll be alright on the night” is an example of a maladaptive way musicians deal with performance stress; the article certainly doesn't purport this as a successful technique but it does highlight an underlying cultural issue with our approach to performance anxiety: the ‘just get on with it and it will all work out’ approach. (hint: it doesn’t work!)
Overall I think the article highlights the genesis of my message - you don't have to put up with performance anxiety wreaking havoc on your performances!
Here are some of the key messages from the article:
The performers I work with often claim perfectionism as a badge of honour; an indication of exacting standards; something to be proud of - and indeed it certainly can be - but there is also a dark side to perfectionism - the key is how you handle setbacks or the inevitable ‘imperfections’.
By definition, perfectionists set excessively high standards for themselves and tend to be extremely critical of their efforts or results. The problem with this is there is no such thing as perfection. Perfection is like a mirage: the closer you get, the further it pulls away. So, if you are aiming for perfection you will be constantly striving for a goal that is impossible to reach! This means you always feel like a failure and, as a result, your self-confidence will flounder. Riddled with low self-confidence (a key aspect of performance excellence!), your performance will suffer and you will feel anxious, which inevitably leads to more bad performances!