This is a series about conquering stage fright. First, we talked about the importance of knowing yourself. Then, we talked about the fear factor. Third, we talked about creating positive experiences to help fight the panic. Fourth, we looked at the importance of knowing what you’re doing. This week, we talk about the danger of focusing on results.
I have a number of students who are actors or musicians. They come to me typically because they feel that there is something that is holding them back from performing with the ease and freedom that they desire. A typical lesson goes something like this:
[student plays/performs brilliantly.]
Me: How did you do?
Student: Okay, I guess.
Me: What made it okay?
Student: Well, I didn’t hit that note quite the way I wanted, and this phrase didn’t quite work, and I think I could have out more expression into the piece, and my tone wasn’t as good as it could have been…
Me: Hm. But apart from those things, how did you do?
[Student looks puzzled.]
Me: Did you successfully carry out your plan?
Now, the point here isn’t that the student is being hard on themselves. (They are, by the way.) The point isn’t particularly that they are attuned only to notice negative things about their performance. (Though this is a common problem with performers.)
The problem here is that the student is focused on the negative results. They are listening to the results – the by-product – of a process. When I ask about the process they were using to get their results, they just look puzzled.
If you are thinking and worrying and focusing on the way the performance sounds while you are in the middle of performing, you are focusing on something that has already happened. It is gone. You have no control over it any more. But if you’re thinking about the sound that is already out there, I can pretty much guarantee there’s one thing that you’re not thinking about.
The process that leads to the sound.
In other words, once you start judging your performance while you’re doing it, you effectively give up control over everything that is to come. And I hope you’ll agree with me that this doesn’t sound like a great idea.
So try keeping your mind on what is useful: your plan and your process. Spend the time working out what you want to achieve, and then focus on that. Block your ears, if you have to, just so that you get a sense of what it might be like to give up the addiction to mid-performance criticism.
Comfortingly, FM Alexander says this:
“the individual comes to rely upon his “means-whereby,” and does not become disturbed by wondering whether the activities concerned will be right or wrong. Why should he, seeing that the confidence with which he proceeds with his task is a confidence born of experiences…”
If we keep working on the process, results will come, and we won’t need to worry about them or listen out for them, because we’ll know that they are there. What a wonderful comforting thought.
Do you keep your mind on the process, or does your inner critic drown out your plan? Tell me about it in the comments.
Photograph by Kevin Leighton.