Performing is not only about playing the music or giving a talk or taking a test. Performing also reveals thoughts and feelings about yourself which, in turn, have an impact on your comfort and competence both on and off stage.
In our emotional lives, both unhelpful and helpful thoughts (note: not good and bad thoughts) may accompany performing and are complex. Yet thinking about performing typically focuses upon the concrete task of performance, perhaps more so than a focus upon what you feel yourself, and the intrinsic satisfaction gained from sharing your creative and well-rehearsed ideas. Often overlooked is the notion that all your thoughts and feelings have powerful effects on how you perform.
“I think, therefore I am” is a well-known statement by the famous French philosopher Rene Descartes (1596- 1650). As a psychologist, I offer a variation on Descartes’ powerful observation by adding, I think, therefore I feel. Thoughts lead to feelings. Feelings lead to thoughts.
Some thoughts will raise anxiety and inhibit performance, and other types of thoughts will help manage anxiety and make anxiety a helpful source of energy and excitement. Bottom line: it is important to become aware of what you are thinking and feeling. An enormous amount of ego (i.e., yourself!!) is invested in offering your talents in public.
I thought about my thinking and my feelings as I wrote “Managing Stage Fright: A Guide for Musicians and Music Teachers” ( a book that speaks to musicians and many other types of non-musician performers who struggle with performance anxiety). Writing a book is akin to a performance in many ways; it is read and evaluated by others (an audience). A book is also somewhat autobiographical although that is not what is intended overtly. In my book, my words, research, my thoughts, and my feelings reflect my experiences and education as a music student, a piano teacher, a nervous performer, a researcher, a presenter, and a psychotherapist/psychoanalyst. One’s ego is certainly on the line through one’s written and spoken words.
As an author, I began to compose my book officially almost two years ago. Yet, I formally began my book, unknowingly, in my childhood when I began my piano lessons and started playing in recitals. This is an awesome realization about the years of personal involvement involved in performance, whether that performance is musical or literary. Our thoughts and feelings are mental windows into our self-esteem as well as about our abilities.
My own thoughts about writing and thinking were highlighted in an unexpected way when I received a comment from an experienced teacher/performer whom I had asked to review my pre-publication manuscript. What pleased me the most was the reaction I received:
“ Reading your book made me think. I understood some new ideas for the first time and reconsidered many of my own long-held ideas.” This comment was more meaningful to me than “I liked your book” or “you write well”. It spoke to my sense of reaching out to another person and having them learn something new or verify/reconsider an old idea of their own. The thought that I communicated something meaningful to a reader brought deep personal satisfaction to me. Music (and other types of ) performance can bring pleasure and satisfaction for the performer, writer, reader, and listener. I hope your performance brings you, the performer, much satisfaction. In fact, this very thought of obtaining satisfaction and of sharing what you are doing may help lower your performance anxiety.
I invite you to take some time in a quiet place and think about performing. You may be very pleased to realize that you can enjoy the entire process, even the hardest and most challenging parts, as you become increasingly tuned in to your thoughts and feelings.
I would enjoy learning about your thinking about your feelings. Please share.