By Emma Baird

Picture this: you have just listened to another student play the devilishly difficult piece that you are learning exceptionally well, or perhaps you have just emerged from yet another frustrating and hopeless practice session. And, the chatterbox in your head can’t help but mutter ‘she’s better than me’, ‘all that work for nothing’, or (the ultimate one which has been mastered so fabulously by classical musicians in particular) ‘I’m not good enough’. The thing is, these are merely opinions of what has happened. No matter what the situation is that seems to sting, there are likely to be at least ten more ways of perceiving exactly the same reality. So, why do we pick the one that is against us and actively defend our weaknesses? That’s right, we pick it because we have a choice of how we interpret any given scenario. 

Thankfully, this is all just a habit of thinking, and habits can be changed. The thoughts are not you, and there is nothing wrong with you: they are simply part of an automatic routine that has developed as a result of both genetic and external influences.

Humans have a filter system in the brain – the Reticular Activating System – which, throughout the day, allows certain pieces of information into our minds and leaves others out. This system loves to search for information which confirms the beliefs that you have about yourself. For example, if one of your beliefs is that your abilities as a musician are inadequate, you will easily be able to spend an entire orchestra rehearsal picking up on all of the possible signs which tell you this is true. You will meticulously detect the imperfections, the people who are managing better than you are, and your brain will convince you that that stare from the conductor was signalling that you did something wrong. Conversely, you will fail to pick up on the fact that the remaining 99% of the rehearsal was executed very well, and that the conductor was probably focusing on one billion other things that had absolutely nothing to do with you. On that note, the ‘I’ll be happy once I can play perfectly’ myth goes out of the window: if the beliefs about yourself are negative and you have not addressed this fundamental problem, then you have been programmed to only notice what is bad, no matter how glittery the external circumstances may be. The lose-lose dilemma of a perfectionist is that if they do manage to reach their impeccably demanding goals, they will fail to recognise that this has been achieved. We must turn inward because that is where the culprit is hiding.

Let’s start turning this nuisance into a nicer person.

Step 1: Notice

Simply notice the thoughts that arise the next time something goes wrong. It is likely that they have become second nature and that you are unaware of their presence and impact, just like bad habits developing in our playing which only become evident once we listen back to a recording, as an outsider. So, set the intention to catch yourself and prepare to be shocked at what you discover!

Step 2: Become a Detective 

Write the thoughts down and then consider the following questions:

Q1: What is the factual evidence for this thought?

Q2: What is the factual evidence against this thought?

Q3: What is a more realistic and positive way of looking at this situation which is going to serve me? (Imagine that you are a friend looking at the situation from the outside, whose judgement is not being twisted by negative emotions).

Going through this process consciously at first, will enable a new automatic pattern to gradually form in our response to any difficult circumstance we find ourselves in. If a process has been associated with pleasurable emotions – which are the direct result of positive thoughts – we are more likely to return to it. This is because we will want to, and humans are fabulous at doing things that they feel like doing. Changing your thoughts is the key to consistency.

A brilliant way of developing a bird’s-eye view of your own mind is to practice meditation. It builds the essential skill of noticing thoughts and feelings that arise without judgement or wallowing. The goal of meditation is to acknowledge rather than resist the thoughts (what you resist persists!) and then gently direct your attention back to the breath. This is an extremely powerful and liberating position to be in.

Observation without judgement, when applied to failure, enables us to skip past the paralysis of fear and worry that is associated with making mistakes and take a shortcut: straight away, with a little courage and curiosity added to the mix, we can stare a ‘problem’ in the face and find a solution, just like that. In half of the time. You may find yourself saying ‘oh…is it really that easy?’. 

It is even better if you can be open to the opportunity of learning the invaluable lesson that this particular mistake is dying to teach you. That is where the gold lies. Then, we not only flow through errors without getting stuck on the negatives, but gain something from the experience that is perhaps more fascinating than that of success. 

Posted by:RAMpage Website

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