As creatives/musicians, we probably like the idea that emotions drive our creativity and make us move forward, and this is undoubtedly true – up to a certain point.
What though if emotions get in the way of creativity, or your progress as a singer?
The first thought many people will have is that this will only be an issue if it leads us into a negative state of mind. Truth is: Too much “positivity” can be as destructive.
This blog is not about trying to “overcome” emotions. It is more about spotting disruptive patterns and turning them into something that will help you to progress as a musician. Emotions are just that – emotions. They are not inherently “good” or “bad”. How you deal with them determines your path.
So which emotions am I talking about?
“What’s wrong with that”, you will ask. “Isn’t happiness a positive thing?”
Yes, in general it is. The dangerous thing is that happiness can lead to complacency – why put in the extra hours of vocal practice if you just got your first gig, and everyone is raving about how amazing you were? Happiness creates a bubble, and once you are inside, you will not want to leave it – this includes trying to avoid everything that disrupts, i.e. CHANGE. Complacency is the enemy of progress and growth.
So instead of stalling, use the feeling of happiness to drive you on. It is much easier to work on things if you are in a positive state of mind: Dig deep and find the things you would still like to get better at/do/change. You are in an ideal position to do this when you are happy. You are also much more likely to succeed in challenging situations, be they technique- or performance related – a happy state of mind can help you a great deal with solving problems.
Moving on to the opposite end of the spectrum – feels more obvious straightaway, doesn’t it?
If you are sad (or even depressed), the main problem will be to stay on target – it can feel very hard to focus on anything, or to do the work needed to improve your situation (and we are probably not just talking about voice and performance related issues here). However, change and progress require effort, and everything that is an effort usually feels like a “no can do”. Bring on the downward spiral …
The problem with sadness is that you can’t simply tell yourself to “be happy”. The Internet and media are full of advice like “Just smile, and you will feel better” etc. My opinion is that this seldom works – trying to push away feelings of sadness will just make them rear their ugly head again at a later stage. As a singer and performer, the more obvious choice is to channel feelings of sadness in a creative way – write, compose, paint, whatever feels right. Some of the greatest art has been created from a state of sadness – one that has been embraced, not pushed aside. It is natural to feel sad occasionally, but in this day and age, it many perceive it as a weakness, and people try to put on a façade so they don’t appear weak.
If you cannot work creatively because it feels mentally exhausting, try to tackle your state of mind by getting physically active and forget about “having to create” – move, do sports, dance (great for musicians for many reasons!). If this doesn’t help either, and the sadness lingers on for too long, seek professional help. There is only so much you can do on your own, and it is not a weakness to admit you are consistently sad and struggle to snap yourself out of it.
Many creatives/musicians/singers will probably be much more familiar with NOT feeling very confident: We are endlessly trying to boost our confidence, so we stop doubting ourselves and our abilities.
Being confident is healthy, being too confident can be detrimental to progress though – and it can also alienate people you need to work with, or whose help you might need at some point.
Not seeing the necessity to improve anymore because you think you got and know it all is a bit like being “too” happy – only that the potential to destroy important relationships with your audience, peers and mentors is much higher.
At the end of the day, being confident gives you a real advantage, because you believe that you can achieve whatever you want to achieve, be it becoming a technically better singer or a great performer. This is what is needed to succeed. Just be aware that there will always be things you can improve on – a musician never stops learning, and your creative journey never ends. Use confidence to drive you on, not to stop you in your tracks.
As a singer, the first thing that springs to mind is probably “performance anxiety/stage fright”. What is the basis for anxiety in a musician’s life though?
It is fear of failure or not being good enough (which usually boils down to a deep-rooted need to be liked). Fear is fine, it is healthy in certain (!) situations. It is not a “bad” emotion – it’s how you handle it that determines the outcome.
The biggest problem with fear of failure is that it very often leads us to not even trying. Not trying is a safe place to be, it cuts out the risk of being hurt or “laughed at”. However, it is also a boring and frustrating place to be: If you don’t try, you will most certainly feel regret and inadequacy at some point, which in turn can drag you down deeper – and will make you more anxious.
Acknowledge the feeling of anxiety as what it is: A sign that something is important to you in one way or another. Something you feel indifferent about doesn’t cause anxiety. What do we call someone who really knows what’s important to them? Passionate? Committed? Are these not commonly regarded as “positive” attributes? Use your anxiety as your guide – it shows what is most important to you, what you are really passionate about, and you can harness it to drive you on.
Needless to say that if you really feel you cannot cope and are crippled by anxiety, there is a lot of professional help out there – don’t feel ashamed to use it.
“What?” I can hear you say, “I am a musician, I am never bored”. Alright then, maybe replace the word “boredom” with “lack of challenge”. Having nothing to aim for can be as stressful as aiming too high: It leaves you unfulfilled.
Instead of putting up with it, again use it as an indicator that you require a change, and for that, you need to establish a daily routine. Sounds counterintuitive? Isn’t a routine “boring”?
I am talking about establishing a routine to get your creative juices flowing again. Set aside time every day to do something you have never done – paint if you are a musician, dance if you are a writer, have a go at Opera if you are a Rock singer – it doesn’t matter, the world is your oyster. It is not about being perfect or authentic at something, it is about doing something that feels new, about allowing yourself to see the world like a child again. It is about being able to laugh at yourself if something goes wrong, about switching off the inner control freak and not caring what is “the done thing”, about saying “Yes, I’ll try” instead of “No, that’s silly”. You will be amazed how just trying something out of your comfort zone will give you new ideas for the creative field you are comfortable in.
You just need to do something new and challenging regularly, and it will build momentum for everything else you do. Boredom is not your enemy – it is just an indicator that you need change, and that’s a good thing if you don’t give in to complacency.
Now over to you: Did you ever try to see emotions we commonly label as “negative” as positive challenges, and the ones that are so often perceived as “positive” as obstacles to success?
© Petra Raspel 2012