Affirmations – positive statements about ourselves in first person and in the present tense. But do they really help cope with performance anxiety and resolve negative feelings leading up to a performance?
Have you ever felt like a fool sitting there repeating phrases to yourself like “I am a great musician. I sound amazing. I am very confident about this.”? All in the midst of being a nervous wreck just before getting up on stage or taking an audition. Ever feel like you were forcing this message to your subconscious self and try to trick yourself out of feeling inadequate, intimidated, or like an impostor?
This is a pretty common scenario. Unfortunately, affirmations don’t always work, even with all best intentions. If we feel like we are lying to ourselves with these statements, affirmations may cause us more harm than good.
There is a better way.
Last week, I joined a zoom session with Honesty Pill‘s Christopher Still, who featured Jenny Clift as his guest. She introduced a practice (totally new to me!) called EFT tapping, which stands for Emotional Freedom Techniques. In her private coaching, she helps musicians navigate through periods of negative feelings/thoughts (ie – fear, anxiety, dread, embarrassment, etc) that are often experienced by anyone taking high-stakes auditions or getting ready for an important performance.
In this virtual meeting, I learned that when affirmations aren’t working, EFT will usually be way more helpful. I even tried a mini-round of EFT with the group, guided by Jenny. This example wasn’t for dealing with any negative thoughts, but rather to test my upper body’s range of motion in a simple exercise. After 3 minutes of guided EFT, my range of motion improved by about 2 inches.
What is EFT tapping?
Emotional Freedom Techniques (EFT) is an alternative to acupressure therapy that involves using the fingertips to tap several pressure points on the hands, face, and upper body. It helps to resolve an issue or navigate through challenging feelings by establishing a mind-body connection. It’s still being researched but has already proved beneficial and brought success to people getting treatment for anxiety, PTSD, and other symptoms.
How can EFT help musicians?
EFT can help musicians uncover courage, strength, release more of their inner musicality, be more confident, and improve focus. It can help prepare for an audition and deal with performance anxiety by being present and really learn to come face to face with the uncomfortable feelings. In a typical session, while tapping the acupressure points, the musician will say out loud statements based on what they are currently feeling, and format them like the following examples:
“Even though my sound gets very tight and my bow starts to shake when I’m nervous, I love and accept myself completely.” or “Even though I’m dreading to make a complete fool of myself after working so hard, I honor, love, and accept myself completely.”
Accept Where You Are
You might be surprised. Why on earth would anyone focus on the negative feelings (and say such ridiculous statements out loud) when trying to feel better? It’s important to understand that in order to make progress, it all begins with accepting where we currently are. This is best explained by coach and author Brad Stulberg in his book The Practice of Groundedness. Here is a brief excerpt:
“When things don’t go our way we tend to default to magical thinking, convincing ourselves we’re in a better place than we are…we bury our heads in the sand or do precisely what society’s heroic individualism and superficial success culture tell us to do: think positive thoughts, numb and distract ourselves, buy stuff and tweet…Progress in anything…requires recognizing, accepting, and starting where you are. Not where you want to be. Not where you think you should be. Not where others think you should be. But where you are…acceptance is key to happiness and performance in the now, and also to productive change in the future.”
Transition in EFT
It’s important to understand that we don’t want to just “hang out” in the negative feelings; rather, acknowledge them. EFT tapping helps to release a lot of that energy. But it can get even better. After the mini session, Jenny Clift demonstrated a longer version to help a musician in the group who was about to take an audition. The rest of us tried to imagine all the different things we feel when an important audition is around the corner, and tapped into our memories to invoke some of those emotions in our bodies on both a physical and mental level. We repeated the guided statements out loud and tapped together, each in our own space. I noticed that after several rounds of this practice, the negative statements drifted into a more “neutral” territory. This is an important place to get. If things go well and the inner feelings begin to match this neutral territory, EFT might then progress to positive statements (ie – similar to affirmations, but more aligned with reality). This allows a musician to tap into (pun intended) their inner confidence, focus, and calm for the performance.