We’ve all been there.
You’re on stage – sailing through a performance when one missed note unravels months of hard work.
Suddenly, all you can think about is how badly you’ve screwed up. You run through all the times you should’ve practiced instead of binge-watching another Netflix show. All you want is to scramble off stage and curl up in a dark corner.
After teaching a disastrously unproductive lesson you just can’t shake the feeling that your students would be better off with a different teacher.
A few of these experiences can lead you to avoid performing altogether just to escape your debilitating self-criticism. You might start thinking you’re just not cut out to be a great teacher. That unrelenting voice in your head leaves you with the sinking feeling that maybe you should just quit.
You could quit.
Or you could take 5 minutes a day to silence your inner critic.
Your brain doesn’t have to be your biggest enemy in performances. Instead of indulging in self-criticism, use your brain’s incredible power to focus to fuel successful performances.
This simple but potent focus-building technique will enable you to break your habit of self-criticism in only 5 minutes a day.
Improved awareness is the first step for changing any habit.
Find a quiet place where you can sit or stand for a few minutes without distractions. Close your eyes and check in with each of your senses.
How does your body feel? Do you feel alert? Sleepy? Any aches and pains? What areas feel relaxed? Notice how the chair or ground feels underneath you. Take one minute and notice what you can smell, taste, hear, and feel.
If possible, observe without attaching positive or negative labels. For example, if you hear a beautiful violin solo in a nearby room, just notice the sound without dreaming about how pretty it is or how much you wish you could play like that. Similarly, if you smell someone’s fragrant lunch try to just observe the scent instead of dwelling on just how stinky it is.
Once you have taken stock of your surroundings, bring your attention to your thoughts. Are you thinking about what you’re going to do next? Maybe you feel hungry and start imagining what’s for dinner. Perhaps you think about your next performance. Observe your thoughts for the next minute.
Again, notice your thoughts without attaching positive or negative labels. Once you’ve noticed a thought, let it go and move on.
Now that you’ve built some awareness of your thoughts, start to notice your breath. If your breathing has gotten very shallow, take a few deep, slow breaths through your nose. Continue for 3-5 rounds of deep breathing, then let the depth and speed of your breath return to normal.
For two minutes, remain focused only on your breath. Your mind will likely wander. Don’t worry, that’s normal. You might be surprised at the number of thoughts you have in just two minutes. Your goal is merely to notice when your mind wanders and bring your attention back to your breath.
Focus on One Thing
For the last minute of this exercise, pick a single mental focus that suits your goals for today.
If you’re feeling muscular tension or discomfort you could focus on releasing tension in those areas. As you breathe, visualize letting the muscles release on each exhalation.
If you have a big performance coming up, you might visualize feeling calm before walking out on stage. You might visualize in detail the experience of giving an inspiring performance followed by raucous applause.
Or you may want to just continue focusing on your breath and noticing your thoughts. Feel free to customize this last minute of the exercise for your unique needs.
Notice how you feel after you finish.
Maximize the benefits of this exercise by practicing it on a daily basis. While it’s on your mind now, go ahead and plan a time to practice tomorrow. If you’re like me, you might want to set a phone reminder.
Aim to practice every day for at least a week and observe how the exercise influences your attitude and ability to focus. After one week, consider setting a goal for 30 days of consistent practice.
Here’s a quick review of this 5-minute practice:
- Develop Awareness – 1 minute noticing your senses and 1 minute observing your thoughts
- Breathe – 2 minutes focusing on your breath
- Focus on One Thing – 1 minute focusing on a single thing that suits your goals
Soon you will begin to notice your thoughts more often even when you are not doing this exercise. That’s great! Notice those thoughts (even negative ones) and simply let them go. This will allow you to swiftly return your attention to the task at hand whether you are practicing, teaching, or performing.
What is your favorite mental preparation routine? Tell me about it in the comments.
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