How to counter the negative voices in your head
As a family who has moved around the country A LOT, we tend to adopt the sports teams, the orchestra, and the unique culture of the town we’re currently calling home as our own. We became freshly minted Bengal’s fans about a month before they made it to the Superbowl and, oh my goodness, this town has been over the moon. Walking through the local Kroger or Home Depot, people are shouting out WHO DEY! I can’t say I understand the depth of this community’s excitement about the Bengal’s making the Superbowl, but it sure is fun to get swept up into it.
There was a play in the fourth quarter where Burrow, the Begal’s QB, was sacked for what felt like the 10th time in a row. And as he went down, we could see him screaming in pain before he hobbled off the field. And in that scream, as fans we felt his pain, deep in our chests and at the back of our throats. It wasn’t just the physical pain that was excruciating, it was also the pain of seeing their win starting to slip away. The pain of pushing beyond physical and emotional limits to that place where he was being carried solely by adrenalin and sheer force of will. Burrow’s face at that moment is frozen in my memory.
We’ve all known a version of this, right? A time when we were all in on a goal - where we pushed with everything in our arsenal physically, emotionally, and spiritually to make the thing happen. We sacrificed downtime, sleep, hanging out with friends and family, recreation, nature, self-care - all in service to achieving the goal.
Then comes that moment - that moment when we’re sacked for the tenth time, hurt, and crashing to the ground. That moment when the goal slips out of our fingertips.
And the pain… It’s a lot, isn’t it? The pain can make it hard to lift your head, much less pull your instrument out of the case again.
The pain of the moment you don’t hear your name called for the next round in the audition or when you open the letter that thanks you for your interest in such and such, but unfortunately… or when you pour your heart and soul into a piece of music just to receive the feedback that it doesn’t feel like you connect with the piece. It is acute, take your breath away pain that brings tears to your eyes and a tremor to your hand. That pain wears off eventually. It doesn’t feel like it will, but it always does.
However, it’s not just the acute pain of failure that affects us, it’s also the chronic pain of the voices in our heads. This type of pain doesn’t take our breath away or cause us to cry out, this pain slowly and insidiously eats away our confidence, our sense of self-worth, our ability to trust ourselves as an artist. These are the voices that say, “Of course you failed, you always fail.” “You aren’t good enough so don’t even bother.” “Why try again when there are so many other people who can and will do it better.”
I know you know the ones. I do, too.
While many of us fear that acute moment of failure, what we really need to fight against is the chronic pain caused by the subversive negative messages inside our own heads.
An acute failure will take you out of that one game. The chronic pain we inflict upon ourselves will take us out of the sport entirely.
It is our sacred responsibility as artists, as creatives, as people who make this world truer and more beautiful with our work - it is our job to manage these voices so we can get to the business of making music.
Here’s how to manage the chronic pain
1. You need to know what is true.
This is what is true: this beautiful planet with all the souls who walk upon it needs to hear what you have to say. You have been woven together in a perfectly unique way. You look through eyes that see the world with your own perspective. You find beauty in places other people don’t. You hurt and long for things that are just for you. And because you are so beautifully unique, so too is your artistic voice. You have been called to bring that forth. The planet is longing to hear what you have to say.
2. You need to practice believing what is true.
Just like you practice music to transform it from reading notes on a page to the pure expression of our hearts, so too must you practice taking the knowledge that the world needs your voice and writing that truth upon your heart. You can practice this through gratitude, through affirmations, through mico-celebrations. Practice honoring what is true about the deepest parts of you. After time, it will be written deeper on your heart.
3. You need to identify and reject the lies.
Those unkind, self-defeating voices? They speak lies - only lies. There is nothing to be found there. Those voices are sneaky, manipulative, and bent on keeping you down. Those voices attack your character, your worth, your voice. It takes tremendous discipline and faith to reject those negative voices and it is the single most important job you have as an artist.
You are a creator. You are gifted to touch humanity’s heart with your art. You create space for people to feel, you communicate and connect through sound and shape and color, you give voice to the secret and hidden. This is profoundly important work. And in order to birth your music into this world, you must get a handle on those nasty inner voices.
As it turns out, after that horribly painful sack that Burrow endured in the fourth quarter of the Superbowl, he was able to continue playing. He rested and recovered while the Rams had the ball, and then he was back on the field.
Don’t let the pain - not the acute pain of a loss and not the chronic, nagging pain of negative self-talk - keep you out of the game.
Because this is what is true: this beautiful planet with all the souls who walk upon it needs to hear what you have to say.
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.