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.
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.
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.
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!
If I had a penny for every time I heard someone complain that their performance was great in the rehearsal room, but then fell apart when they got on stage… It is usually uttered with an incredulous look that says ‘I don’t understand what went wrong!?’, but unfortunately, the answer is pretty simple!
So many people train the part of their brain responsible for playing their instrument, but forget to train the part that is controlling their performance. We assume that our fingers, lips, tongue or vocal chords won’t work with the speed and accuracy required unless we train intently, and yet we expect to handle the pressures and adversities of performance situations with little to no training at all. This wouldn’t be such a big deal if we were naturally equipped to handle the pressures of performance - but we aren’t! Let me explain…
Welcome to The Mindful Performer!
Throughout this blog, I will be sharing my thoughts and insights, based on the latest performance psychology research, to inspire and enable your peak performance. Whether you are a singer, instrumentalist, actor, dancer or public speaker a life in performance is both thrilling and rewarding, but it can also be a great challenge, marred with regular rejection, scrutiny, crippling challenges to self esteem, self-doubt and gruelling schedules. In this modern, competitive world, where there is always someone else to take your place and where bottom lines regularly trump the nurturing of talent, we need to address the limiting beliefs and thoughts that hold us back, and recognise the capacity of our brains to empower rather than derail us. If we don't, we are likely to be left behind.