How the musician can take failure into their own hands
Planning to fail sounds inhibiting and less than helpful, right? I mean, how can a musician be all in on a goal when in the back of their head is the possibility of failure? Won’t that mute your effort and subconsciously keep you from preparing and performing their best? It’s like intentionally creating a negative thought bias around self-sabotage.
Well, yes and no…
We all have a plan to fail lurking around when we take on a project or goal that we care deeply about. That fear of failure takes different forms, depending upon the musician:
An anxiety spiral where worry layers on top of worry;
Stress that manifests as distraction;
Self-doubt and limiting beliefs;
Unkind or downright abusive inner dialogue;
Lack of self-care;
Resistance to feedback
Your mind and body are already planning to fail, it’s just happening without your active control or intention. All of these unhealthy “strategies” have become automatically executed through years of habit and experience and do not serve you or our music-making.
However, when the musician takes time to plan their failure, you are able to execute a blueprint that bolsters your self-esteem, increases your resilience, and allows you to regulate your own emotional experience of a failure.
Failures involving the technical aspects of a performance are an easy place to start planning. You get a lot of positive emotional bang for your buck with some pretty straightforward problem-solving. Anxiety over logistcal obstacles can be quite debilitating, so play a little “What If” game with yourself and think through the likely scenarios that could come up before an important performance or audition.
What if you:
Forget your music;
Get to the hall late and don’t have enough time to do your planned warm-up;
Have tight shoulders or a neck cramp due to travel;
Are dehydrated or hungry;
Find the door to the hall locked;
Order an Uber and it doesn’t show up;
Lose your luggage;
Are too cold or too hot on stage;
Get dry mouth;
What are the things that cause you the most anxiety? Start there. This doesn’t have to be exhaustive - you simply want to hit your emotional triggers so you can feel confident that your bases are covered.
Find solutions for those challenges and write it down. Now you have a plan!
When planning for logistical failures, we look to the future and play “What if?” When planning for emotional failures, we look to the past and play “What happened?”
I want you to work through the following two iterations of these questions and parse out habits, thoughts, and coping skills attached to each situation.
Think of a time when you were all in on something and you felt like you handled the failure well. Or, well enough. It’s always hard to fail, but sometimes the blow is a little softer.
Now, remember a time when a failure knocked the wind out of you for a longer period of time. One where your sense of identity or purpose was rocked and maybe you questioned whether you should keep going or quit.
Excavate your inner life by answering these questions.
What was your internal dialogue?
How did you validate your feelings?
Did you process the failure alone or were you in community?
How did you justify to yourself that it was ok that you failed?
What coping skills did you use?
How would you characterize your preparation? Did that impact your resilience?
What mindset practices did you have in place that you believe supported your emotional response?
Were your feelings about the failure or about yourself. “I failed” vs “I am a failure.”
How did you feel your feelings? Did you numb them?
How did loved ones respond to your failure? How did that response impact you?
As you think through these questions, coping strategies will bubble up for you. Things that are helpful, things that are hurtful.
You have the ability to choose how to support your emotional well-being in the face of failure. You are not beholden to every automatic response your brain puts forth, but rather you can practice responding in a new way that serves your resilience.
For example, my brain’s go-to response when I experience a failure is: Of course, you failed. You suck. You aren’t good enough. Why did you ever think you could, X,Y,Z? Obviously, that feels terrible, so my habit is to numb. Drink wine, binge Netflix, sleep excessively, eat ice cream.
Those are not strategies I would actively choose for myself. Through some personal reflection and creating a plan to fail, I am instead able to:
Anticipate what my brain is going to say;
Have a powerful response that is in alignment with my values and how I actually see myself in relationship to failure;
Implement immediate strategies that will support a healthy, nourishing mindset.
This is a messy, ever-evolving process for us as musicians. For us as humans, too!
We aren’t built with a manual, a how-to guide on how to deal with failure. That’s why I write this blog! That’s why I offer So Many Strategies. You have to experiment, find out what works best for you. Discover what holds you back and how to move through it.
We need your art in this world. And, I know there is a way to make music, to be all in, and to fail without beating yourself up.
Keep going. I’m here to help.
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.