2 exercises for classical musicians to challenge unhelpful core beliefs
*Welcome to The Musician's Mindset! I'm Katie, a certified life coach and flutist who helps musicians overcome performance anxiety and bring their best selves to the stage. I would love to talk to hear your stories about being a musician and what happens for you on stage. Click HERE and we’ll find some time to chat!*
As humans, we all have core beliefs - those deeply ingrained ideas that we believe to be true about ourselves. These are the beliefs that inform how we walk through this world, whether with confidence or with doubt.
Core beliefs are like a compass that tells us which way is north; they help us make decisions, affect how we manage failure, and influence how we perceive ourselves in relationship to the world and others.
Core beliefs can also be challenging to identify and articulate. Chances are, many were rooted during your early development and have become so entwined with your personality that it can be challenging to separate beliefs from identity.
Maybe you had a teacher who shamed you as a young musician with the resulting core belief that you are never going to be good enough.
Maybe you had a parent or caregiver who taught you how to understand failure, whether it was tying your shoes or losing a race, and your core belief tells you that you are resilient and bounce back easily from failure.
Maybe you were unconditionally loved as a child and your core belief is that no matter what, you are worthy.
Maybe you learned early on that the way to receive attention and affection was through achievement and so your core beliefs tell you to keep pushing for the next win, the higher grade, the more prestigious job.
When it comes to performance anxiety, musicians benefit from digging into their core beliefs to determine whether the beliefs are serving them or inhibiting them. When our nervous systems respond with ferocious intensity - like when our hands shake or we start sweating profusely - our bodies believe we are in imminent danger. While it is incredibly helpful to have a toolbox of ways to calm down in the moment (breathwork, movement, vagus nerve stimulation), lasting progress occurs when we excavate the core beliefs ultimately at play during performances and replace them with something more helpful.
The encouraging news is, We Can Change! With practice (something I know you’re already great at!), we can take our most potent limiting core beliefs and transform them into uninhibited self-confidence.
As fully functioning humans with agency, we can choose new core beliefs. Ones that nourish us, that support us in our work on stage, and that allow us to bring authentic art into this world.
Core Beliefs Suitcases Exercise
*Based on an exercise found over at positivepsychology.com*
This exercise helps take nebulous core beliefs and makes them more tangible. Once they’re tangible, you can rewrite them. If you’re anything like me, discerning the beliefs that shape my decision-making and performance anxiety is pretty daunting. You’ll find that this mindset tool gives you a good start on making the unknown, known.
Imagine you are going to a big performance: an audition or competition. As you leave for the concert hall, you think about whether you are deserving of success. On this day, you will need to pick out a blue, green, or black briefcase to bring along with you. Each briefcase represents a possible core belief and the briefcase you choose impacts your performance.
Blue Briefcase: “I’m talented.”
Internal thought associated: “I am naturally adept with lots of experience. I have worked diligently and prepared to the best of my ability. I deserve to succeed today.”
Your reaction: You feel confident as you enter the hall, and subsequently succeed in your performance.
Green Briefcase – “I’m unsure whether I’m talented.”
Internal thought associated: “I have lots of experience and I think I’m good, but someone else will probably get the job over me.”
Your reaction: You don’t feel great heading into the audition. You advance to the next round, but ultimately don’t win.
Black Briefcase – “I’m not talented.”
Internal thought associated: “There’s no way I’m getting this job. Other candidates are much more capable than me.
Your reaction: You’re insecure stepping on stage, don’t play your best and don’t get the job.
The outcome of the performance depends upon which briefcase you choose to bring with you. Of course, the blue briefcase isn’t magic and can’t guarantee a positive outcome, but it certainly influences your thinking and emotions throughout the performance. If you are filled with doubt and insecurity, it is more likely that you will not play to the best of your abilities that day. Likewise, if you are filled with sincere confidence that you have something special to share through your music, you are more likely to have a successful performance.
Now that you have a clearer understanding that you carry a briefcase with a core belief in it, it is time to apply this to your own life.
In a thought bubble, I want you to identify a core belief that you would like to challenge. A belief that has been a part of you that no longer serves you or the music you are trying to make.
This can be tricky, so here are a few prompts to get you started:
When you make a huge mistake in a performance, what is your self-talk?
When deciding whether to put yourself out there, what holds you back?
What gets in the way of you believing in yourself?
Where do you find your self-worth and value?
What is the difference in your mindset between a performance you nailed and one you felt was less successful?
Under each core belief, I want you to write down three reasons that it isn’t true.
Here’s an example to get you started.
This can't be true because...
2. The audience wants authenticity, not perfection.
3. Nothing interesting or beautiful happens when perfection is the main pursuit.
Challenging these core beliefs can be HARD. That’s ok! They’ve been wired into your thinking for a long time. My suggestion is that you elevate to your highest, most aspirational self and ask them what they think. Or, imagine your best friend has this core belief - how would you support them?
Rewrite a core belief that serves you:
There isn't a wrong way to do this, or an answer you're supposed to get. Your only job is to
1. uncover your limiting beliefs; 2. challenge them with 3 reasons they aren't true; 3. rewrite a new belief that resonates with your highest self.
What if you set aside 15-20 minutes this week and tried this exercise? You're sure to discover something about yourself and find some freedom in a new narrative.
Choose the blue briefcase, my friend. Choose to believe about yourself everything that is good and true and beautiful. Imagine the kind of music you’ll start to make.
*While you can certainly have success with this type of work on your own, many musicians find it helpful to have a partner. That's where I come in! Click HERE to schedule a time to chat. I'd love to work together and help you bring your best self to the stage.
Next Steps and Additional Resources
Here at The Musician's Mindset, we have some incredible resources for developing and implementing mindset practices that will transform how you perform on stage.
First, check out our Personalized Mindset Tools Quiz to discover the mindset strategies perfect for YOU!
Schedule your FREE 30 Minute Call with Katie. It’s free. It’s my pleasure. And it’s the first step to releasing stage fright once and for all.
Founder of The Musician's Mindset
Katie is a certified life coach dedicated to helping musicians overcome stage fright and believe in their own unique artistic voice. She believes live classical music is a powerful antidote for the division, pain, and loneliness pervasive in the culture and strives to support all artists to confidently share their work with the world. She lives in Cincinnati with her husband, three kiddos, a dog, a snake, and a goldfish named Orca.