3 Steps to Reframe Performance Anxiety
Helping the classical musician look at fear a different way
As musicians we are in new situations often. Whether we’re taking a lesson with a player/teacher that is new to us, subbing in a chamber ensemble or orchestra we haven’t played with before, running a masterclass for the first time …
Whatever the specific situation is, we have the unique privilege and challenge of walking into the unknown regularly.
The key to having a healthy mindset as we enter these new experiences lies in how we identify our feelings, reframe them appropriately and ground ourselves before we step into the room.
Often times we get the call for the gig, furiously practice the music and crash into rehearsal without any mental preparation. Of course we want to do a great job, impress the principal player, be delightful and easy to work with and get hired again.
But, you guys, that is a lot of pressure. That is a lot of burden to put on yourself, especially if you aren’t doing the mental prep in advance.
The result ends up being that you experience a lot of fear and doubt, potentially seeking approval/validation from other musicians, and certainly not playing your best because your mind is so full of these unprocessed expectations.
So I’m doing a new thing. I’ve committed to pursue a certification program that will take 6 months to complete in a field that is outside of my comfort zone of classical music. My first class was this week.
The first words that came to my head as I processed my feelings about this new experience were: scared, intimidated, insecure and also excited, hopeful and curious.
We all have some version of these feelings when we do something new, right? A mixture of negative and positive rolling around inside of us.
Having known myself for a while (ahem), I understand that I tend to veer negative in my thought patterns. I will focus on what threatens me over what gives me strength.
And I also know that just trying to “focus on the positive” is not helpful because it doesn't actually resolve the negative. The scared settles in, lying in wait, until I step into the room or on the stage where it completely takes over.
I didn’t want that for myself this time.
And I don’t want it for you, either.
Reframing is an exercise where you choose to look at something from a different point of view.
For example, you go running and end up injuring yourself badly enough that you need to take weeks or months off.
Version 1 says: I love running. I don’t know how I can manage without getting out on the pavement every day. I’m going to get so out of shape. All the work I’ve done is going to vanish. I wanted to run that race and now I won’t be ready. (Commence negative spiral downward.)
Version 2 says: I love running and this injury really stinks. I am disappointed. But, I bet there is something else I could do, something new I can try. Maybe swimming or yoga. This is an opportunity to broaden myself. While it isn’t what I would have chosen, I can still more forward.
It takes time to get from version 1 to version 2. We do need to spend time feeling our fear or disappointment. Those feelings are very real and cannot be swept under the rug of false positivity.
But, when we reframe, we can move through those feelings to a healthier and more productive place. A place where we are emotionally balanced and able to handle the stress of a new situation.
There are many sides to a situation and we get to CHOOSE how we look at it.
How to Reframe Your Feelings
Acknowledge what you feel. Honor it. Give it space to be heard. Use “I feel _______.” Understand that these are valid feelings - of course you’re nervous, or intimidated, or insecure. Welcome to the game, friend. That's what happens when you're being BRAVE.
Take an emotional step back and walk around the situation (not the feelings you’re experiencing.) What would you say to your sister? Or your friend? How would you help them shift their mindset? Some questions you can ask yourself:
What am I here to do? Big picture. (hint: make beautiful music)
Who am I here for? Myself? The audience? The MUSIC?
What thinking patterns do I get to practice in this situation? (worthiness, understanding I’m in process…)
What am I excited about? Playing in the hall, with a certain section, hearing such and such a teacher’s feedback, performing a certain piece…
Who can I support? Who can I help shine? The principal? The concertmaster? (i.e. change the focus from you to someone else)
In other words, take the goal of getting rehired or impressing someone off the table and replace it with something you actually have control over.
Create your new perspective and COMMIT. So when you’re preparing your part and the anxiety creeps in you can say, “Yes, I feel ___________. BUT, I am also seeing this as a chance to __________.”
Repeat your reframed feelings as often as needed. The more you do it, the more prepared you’ll be when you step into the room.
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!
Join the waiting list for my FREE mini-course, How to Stimulate Your Vagus Nerve and Calm the Heck Down.
Founder of The Musician's Mindset
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.