This is the second in a series of articles that deal with the potentially debilitating phenomenon that used to be called stage fright but is now referred to as performance anxiety--a much less loaded term. It is my hope that people will be helped by what I have come to learn through my years of experience. Part I explored the somewhat esoteric (but incredibly effective) practice of opening the crown chakra--a yoga and meditation technique. This article will deal with a much more conventional strategy--creative visualization.
Years ago I read a book called The Mental Athlete which helped me a great deal. The field of sports psychology (and sports medicine, for that matter) has been about 15 years ahead of that of the music world. They figured out that in order for Olympic athletes, for example, to win at competitions more than just their bodies had to be trained. Their minds had to be trained as well. The book explained the use of positive imagery to help develop the experience of playing a sport with heightened concentration while maintaining a relaxed body, executing moves and maneuvers with confidence and alacrity, all while enjoying the process. I said to myself, "That's exactly what I want to do while playing a concert!"
So, here is The Mental Athlete's prescription for achieving these goals. Using the sample below as a guide, write a script for yourself that walks you through the process of getting ready for a concert, playing the performance, and leaving the event. Include descriptions of how you want to feel--confident, optimistic, joyful, etc. Be sure to keep everything in the present tense, in the first person, and worded in the positive, i.e. "My body is relaxed" instead of "My body is not tense". Leave pauses where you think you will need them. You can begin your script with some very basic progressive relaxation techniques. Researchers have found that the subconscious is more receptive to suggestions when the body is in a relaxed state.
After you've written the script you will need to record it into a device that will easily play it back for you--your Smart Phone, for instance. From then on all you need to do is listen to your recording every day for at least a week before your performance. You can listen while lying down, before going to sleep at night, or even while taking a hot bath. (It's important to note, however, that you should NOT listen to your recording while driving a car.) Here is a sample visualization that I've used myself and recorded for many of my students. You should adapt it to your own needs:
Lie down and get very relaxed. Breath in....breath out...inhale....exhale.... My toes are relaxed. My legs, trunk, fingers are relaxed. My arms, back, shoulders, neck and head sink into the bed. With each breath I get more and more relaxed.....Now I see myself getting ready for my concert. I see what I'm wearing and I like the way I look. I'm happy while I'm getting myself ready--looking forward to sharing my music with others. Now I'm arriving at the venue. I'm confident because I know how well prepared I am. I greet my friends and colleagues. Now I'm onstage and I put my instrument together, put my music on the stand, and I warm up. I sound good. Everything is working perfectly and the sound coming back to me from the back of the hall is beautiful. Now the concert begins....[hear the passages in your head exactly as you would like them to come out]...Now it's another piece. My concentration is total and complete. I blend perfectly with everyone else and my solos are filled with expression....I easily let go of any mistakes....I'm taking in positive energy from the audience and from my colleagues. Now the concert is over. I'm packing up...telling others how good they sounded...thanking them when they complement me. I make sure I have everything and I leave the stage. I leave feeling good.
That's all there is to it. Just listen and follow along in your mind's eye and let this process work it's magic. For it DOES work and the more often you do it the better. This is a case where less is definitely not more!
Have a great concert.