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3 Toxic Mindsets of Musicians

Ditch the unhealthy mindsets and fall back in love with making music

As classical musicians, we tend to be focused on where we are going and what we are trying to achieve. Our efforts are directed toward the next deliverable on the calendar:

  • Next week’s lesson

  • The BIG audition

  • This afternoon’s rehearsal

  • The solo recital

Of course, we are preparing for the next thing! That’s a big part of being reliable and professional as a musician. We take rehearsals and performances seriously and aim to make the best music we can.

Unless we are intentional about our mindset, however, too much weight can be placed on these external goals. When we have a tough lesson or don’t advance in the audition, it can be devastating.

It is a tricky balance, right? We want to be ALL IN on our goals. We want to do excellent work in the practice room so we can share our artistic ideas with our audience. We ALSO want to be resilient in the face of a disappointing outcome so we can take our instruments out tomorrow with hope.

3 Unbalanced Mindsets

Let's break down 3 of the most common unbalanced mindsets found in the life of the classical musician.

1. Perfection

When we practice 6 hours a day, relentlessly attacking every area of deficiency AND have an inner dialogue that speaks self-shame, we are deep in the throws of perfection. Our identity is completely tied to the outcome.

  • Bad rehearsal? I’m the worst violinist.

  • Lost audition? Why did I ever think I could be a professional clarinetist?

The narrative becomes “I am a failure” rather than “I failed at such-and-such.”

Perfection makes us believe that if we work hard enough and are hard enough on ourselves that we will achieve success.

As all recovering perfectionists know (ahem…) it has the opposite effect. Rather than ensuring our success, perfectionism heightens our fear because EVERYTHING is on the line. Then comes the shaking, the sweating, and the dry mouth when we step on stage. At the moment we need to feel confident and prepared, perfection overrides our mindset with fight, flight, or freeze symptoms in an effort to protect us.

2. [False] Modesty.

In my experience, false modesty often runs deeper than brushing off a compliment or minimizing a win. It points to an internal protective strategy that tries to keep us safe from the feelings of failure. If we aren’t fully invested in winning the job, then we won’t be hurt if it doesn’t happen.

We devalue our current achievement in order to be protected from the disappointment of not meeting the next goal.

Brene Brown says, ““We cannot selectively numb emotions, when we numb the painful emotions, we also numb the positive emotions.” When we numb our fear to lose, we also numb the joy of winning. We end up living in this painful cycle of not believing in ourselves - minimizing our achievements - feeling shame over losses - not believing in ourselves. And on and on until it becomes just too much.

3. Self-sabotage.

When we self-sabotage, we give ourselves an out. Either we don’t show up at all (I did this once by being a no-show at a big national competition I’d advanced through the tape round for) or we set conditions to be less than optimal for success. For example:

  • We procrastinate. We push off starting the work so it isn’t possible for us to do our best when the time comes.

  • We don’t take care of our bodies. All-out effort becomes focused on the work and we forget that we are humans who need nourishment and sleep. We treat ourselves like a music machine and are surprised when our nervous systems can’t support us when the stress comes.

  • We haven’t cared for our mindset. When we fail to practice mindset exercises like Visualization, Big Me Little Me, Fear Sifting, or Journaling we are setting ourselves for failure. Our mindset is a HUGE component in how well we produce on the instrument and when that component is neglected? The path to success is just not there.

  • We lack mental discipline. As creatives, we are continually bombarded by self-doubt. If we fail to intentionally shape the narrative inside our own heads, we will drown in self-criticism and shame, thus sabotaging our best efforts.

A Better Way

While meeting goals and external deliverables is a huge piece of being a musician, what if an equally huge piece is being in love with the process of creating music?

The roar of the audience, the compliment from the respected colleague, the external validation and acknowledgment of your work and talent? It feels amazing!

But, every hour of score study, every scale, every etude - they are amazing, too! Every time you choose to believe in your voice or find a solution for an obstacle? Amazing. It’s quieter than applause but infinitely more powerful.

Those mountaintop experiences don’t happen every day and they can’t effectively serve to motivate us for the long term.

It’s a love of the work itself, alone in the practice room with our instruments, that will carry us through a career.

In the end, all we have control over is our effort and our mindset. Each day:

  • We get to take the instrument out of the case and create sound out of silence,

  • We get to reimagine the classics and discover new works,

  • We get to collaborate with gifted friends and colleagues,

  • We get to create connection from the stage,

  • We get to give voice to the secret pieces of our hearts,

  • We get to refine, experiment, and discover all the sounds we can make through our instruments,

  • We get to make the world a better, truer place,

We get to make music.

Let’s work hard on meeting goals and being prepared, but more importantly, let’s fall back in love with the process of making all this glorious music.

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.

  1. First, check out our Personalized Mindset Tools Quiz to discover the mindset strategies perfect for YOU!

  2. 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.

Katie Frisco

Katie is 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.


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