What can the classical musician do after a major loss?
You’ve spent the last 6 weeks preparing for the audition. You’ve maintained a strict practice and health routine, practiced with SMART goals, utilized recordings and feedback from teachers and colleagues, worked on visualization and positive mindset strategies, and yet …
You did everything “right,” but you didn’t win the job. Or the competition. Or you had a huge memory slip in your concerto.
Failures on this scale are brutal, right? You begin to question everything.
Should I even be a musician?
What’s wrong with me that I made that mistake?
Should I find a new teacher or buy a new instrument?
Will I ever be good enough?
While it can be really uncomfortable to exist in this emotional space, there is tremendous value in intentionally working through your thoughts and feelings around failure.
Right now. When they are their most ugly and painful. Trust me, YOU CAN DO IT.
When you spend time acknowledging your internal narrative, and making adjustments to create a more nourishing internal response, you set yourself up for more resilience in the future.
As we all know, failing is a big part of the game. It is baked into our lives as musicians. The better you can field the emotional torrent that comes with a failure, the more likely you will be to take the next risk, do the next hard thing.
I’m sharing 2 worksheets for you to use in support of your mindset around failure; when used together, you’ll find them especially powerful. Print a few copies today and work through them, when the sting of failure is in the past. And then, I encourage you to use them right after you experience your next failure.
It’s so much more helpful than going out for (too many) drinks or staying in bed for a week. Promise.
*These worksheets are adapted from the fine folks over at positivepsychology.com
Thought Diary Worksheet
This exercise is designed to help you see the connection between what you are feeling and what you are thinking. You may notice that when you think “I should just quit, I’m not cut out to be a musician,” you were feeling despair at 80%. Or when you thought “Everyone is going to think I don’t belong here,” you felt embarrassment at 95%. This exercise will reveal patterns of thought and feeling so you can begin rewiring them.
1. Think back to a recent failure and describe it by answering the following questions:
When did it happen? Enter the date and approximate time
What was the situation? What were you doing, where were you, who were you with?
What emotion did you experience? Recognize the emotion. Try and capture it in one word, such as happy, sad, or angry.
What were you thinking at the time? What thoughts were running through your mind at the time or immediately after? Such as, I’m such a screw-up, I’m not good enough.
2. Return to column 3: Emotion. Consider your relationship with the emotion you felt at that time. Rate the emotion (for example, sad) where 0% is not at all, 50% is moderate, and 100% is extreme. Choose carefully, but don’t overthink. This is your score and there is no wrong value.
3. Return to column 4: Thought. How much did you believe that thought? Again, give it a score between 0 and 100, where 0% – is not at all, and 100% is complete belief.
Our mind is often awash with negative thoughts during a difficult situation – if you have listed several, then circle or put a cross beside the most upsetting one.
4. Start to look for patterns
What emotions do you regularly experience around failure?
Do you see how your thoughts are influencing those emotions?
Where are your emotions less intense? Why?
What stories are you telling yourself?
Fact-Checking Thoughts Worksheet
This exercise helps you take the thoughts you recorded in your Thought Diary Worksheet and determine whether they are fact or opinion. We want to build our identity on things that are true, not on negative opinions that hold us hostage.
Thoughts are not facts. Repeat after me, thoughts are not facts.
It can be difficult to accept the idea that thoughts are not facts at first, especially when we are in the throes of emotion. However, completing this worksheet will help.
The worksheet contains statements that you must decide are either fact or opinion.
These statements include:
“I’m not good enough”
“I failed the audition.”
“This will be a disaster.”
“My hands are shaking.”
Note, that there is a correct answer for each statement. (In case you’re wondering, the right answers for the statements above are as follows: opinion, fact, opinion, fact).
This simple exercise can help you see that while we have lots of emotionally charged thoughts, they are not all absolute truths.
Recognizing the difference between fact and opinion can assist you in challenging the dysfunctional or harmful opinions you may have about yourself when experiencing a failure.
While we all know that becoming excellent on our instruments takes hours and hours of work, it also takes intentional work to create a positive and nourishing mindset. All those hours of work can be torpedoed by habitual negative thoughts and who wants that? Certainly not the musician who just dedicated the last six weeks of their lives in preparation for an audition!
Do the work, my dear. Print out the pages, excavate your thoughts and feelings, and walk along the path toward a happier, more resilient creative life.
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 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.