For pianists, other instrumentalists, singers and performers across the performing arts spectrum, confidence in performance can feel like one of those elusive things which sometimes you have, and sometimes you don’t. However, it’s possible to directly influence how confident you will perform just by what you think and say. The power lies in carefully considering the language you use when approaching performance and practice, along with how you view the act of performing; and rethinking what performance means to you. This way, you can prime your brain for confident performance when it matters most. In this article I am going to share 3 ways you can do this, taken directly from my performance coaching practice.
1. Change Your Language
Have you ever thought about the language you are using in your practice? It is surprising how much this can influence not just how efficiently you practice, but how confident you feel about what you are practising. For example, if you say to yourself ‘I can’t do it,’ ‘I’ll never be able to do it,’ ‘I always mess that up,’ or anything else which is undermining yourself, then this not only prevents you from making breakthroughs in your practice, but it sets you up for creating a negative pattern of thinking which is limiting and can cause anxiety. It can become a self-fulfilling prophecy; and it completely closes down your mind and puts you into a fixed mindset.
Instead, try to use language which puts you into a growth mindset. Phrases such as, ‘I wonder if I can,’ ‘I wonder how I might,’ ‘I’m curious to try,’ will open up your mind and put you into a state of curiosity, learning and discovery, whilst taking you out of a fear mindset. This will help your brain to stay always open to learning and positive about your ability.
2. Visualise A Positive Outcome
If all that is ever going through your head on the run-up to a performance is how many ways you could mess up, then it’s a good time to change things. We feed what we focus on, which means that if you visualise yourself feeling nervous and playing badly, then there is a high possibility that this is how your actual performance will go. Most humans are very good at visualising, to the point that we can become so scared with a vision we have in our head and almost forget that it’s not real. Athletes visualise everything they want to do in their performance in minute detail before an event; and this is all geared towards the outcome they want, not the outcome they don’t. It doesn’t make sense to worry about how badly something could go when you can actually influence how well it can go, purely by thinking.
So start to visualise how you want to perform, including how you want to carry yourself, how you see yourself looking confident, in flow and enjoying your performance. Do this every time you imagine a negative scenario in your head. It doesn’t take much effort, but it can be surprisingly impactful.
3. Change Your Definition Of Performance
What’s your definition of performance? Does it seem like this big thing looming in your future? Perhaps it depends on the context of what or where you’re performing, or whether you are performing for a competition or exam. The thing is, although a performance can often be formal in its layout, or in what is expected by the audience, the thing to remember is that it is really just an opportunity to share what you have been working on with an audience who is willing to watch you. Seeing it as opportunity, rather than a fixed event can help to take some of the pressure off. Who cares if you make mistakes, when you know that you can always improve with your next performance? Best of all, if you approach performance in this way, you will probably find that when the pressure drops away you are likely to perform much better than if you were building it up to be this big scary thing.
If you start to incorporate these 3 things into the way you approach practice and performance, then you might be surprised to see the difference it can make to your anxiety levels not just on the run-up to a performance, but in the performance itself. You will have created a much more positive base from which to connect with your audience in a meaningful and expressive way, rather than being consumed with anxiety.