How Mental Training Breaks Through the Performance Plateau
A musician reached out as she was struggling in practice and during performances. This initial conversation was like many that I’ve had in the past with musicians and athletes alike. However, musicians tend to have a particular disposition and it seems to be what gets in the way of them being as successful as they want to be and can be.
The personality of a musician
Musicians come in many shapes, sizes, and ages but the one thing many of them have in common is who they are at the core. The musicians I’ve worked with are very sensitive, they worry they will let people down, they take things personally, and they are very critical. They also spend meticulous hours practicing to find the ‘perfect’ combination of story and music. This combination of traits makes it difficult to separate the person from the music. This is not so dislike many of my athletes – what you do becomes who you are.
Now, where are the issues rooted – in a life event, in competition, in sport occurrences? Musicians seem to be grappling with outside life events, i.e. critical or abusive parents, that trails behind them for many years. Initially it seems to fuel a musician’s passion and natural ability but at some point, good musicians plateau and can’t seem to get any better. Why? There may be things in their past they haven’t dealt with yet, and continue to practice and perform for the wrong reasons. And then struggle to improve. Athletes on the other hand have struggles more so based on their sport events rather than life events.
So close to the top
So my musician was on the plateau. She was so close to being better than good but was in a spot where she wasn’t advancing her performances. She mentioned that she had been in therapy, had read books on mental performance training, and had tried cognitive behavioral techniques. Some had worked minimally but most had stopped working.
She had put a lot of thought and energy into this and had practiced good techniques to help her deal with her environment in a different, more optimal way. But she still struggled to control unique situations that would pop up and was unsure of what tool to use to deal with each scenario.
Getting to the next level
So, what is the best way to meet her where she’s at and move forward? It takes a collaborative effort.
To most effectively help a client, the first step is to build a solid foundation of trust and respect. Next is to learn more about her and really get to know her inside and out – her history, her motivation, her thought process, etc. Based on many years of research and experience, this is critical to help them move forward. From here, the next step is to fully understand what is going on for them. We spend time talking about what the challenges are and develop micro awareness around what, when, where, how and why. It’s often important to develop a heightened sense of awareness before starting any conversation around new techniques or coping mechanisms for making that change. Once we develop the necessary awareness, I start to provide unique techniques and options for them to choose from. Once a client chooses an option we really dig into it: use it, refine it, and reinforce it. Make it habit, make it a natural part of how to think.
In this process, you learn to be less sensitive and less focused on letting people down by being more focused on you, what you need to do, and what you want. We discuss how not to take things personally and critically, rather take it in as information to help you move forward. Together, we create an action plan to deal with pre-performance nerves. This allows you to be proactive and feel the way you want to feel before a performance. It’s training yourself to be in control. And then there’s the conversation about what ‘perfect’ means and how you can let go of the unattainable perfect and stay focused on the process. This frees you up to perform optimally.
When we physically act or perform, we don’t train our brain but expect it to come along for the ride. Sometimes it does but most often it doesn’t. With a little rewiring and training it will and you’ll be in control of that. Not only will you be in control but you’ll be able to perform better. Your brain won’t be all over the place, thinking about things it shouldn’t be. It’ll be thinking about the things it should be.