In a recent session I conducted with performers on what they wanted out of their performances, I found that many of the performers in the group were big believers in the Perfectionists’ Creed:

Perfectionists’ Creed: “If I try hard enough and I am very careful and I follow all of the rules, everything will go right and everyone will love me and I will feel good all of the time.”

In my best Dr. Phil imitation I asked them, “How’s that working for you?” Well, as you might guess, it really wasn’t working at all. Let’s break it down:

“If I try hard enough…”
First of all, when we care a great deal about the outcome of a performance we usually try really hard. There is nothing wrong with trying hard, but

“…I am very careful…”
When we fear embarrassment, failure, being judged it can cause us to become tentative, try to avoid making mistakes or “messing up” which can result in playing or singing tentatively.

“…I follow all of the rules…”
Rules? What rules? When we practice, we need a plan—rules, let’s say—to guide us as we acquire, improve, and rehearse the skills we need to become excellent performers. However, in performance we want to rely on what the rules allowed us to learn. In performance, we need to trust the rule-time or practice time and perform as if there were no rules.

I don’t know about you, but this word has wreaked more havoc in my life than I want to admit. When I say something like, “…everything will go right…” it is code for “…everything will go perfectly.” Our musical performances are pieces of art. Don’t we call it art music? Other than notes and rhythms, aren’t the rest of the choices, CHOICES—expressive choices that we make. Let’s decide to allow our performances to be what they are right here and now—no right or wrong, no all or nothing, no black or white. Let’s choose to be the best we can be.

“…everyone will love me…”
Oh how performers agonize over this one. The plain fact is that this is completely out of our control. Wasn’t it Abraham Lincoln who said, “You can please some of the people all of the time, all of the people some of the time, but you can’t please all of the people all of the time.”? Our 16th president was a wise man and we can learn a lot from this statement. Spending our energy working to please others is futile. Our energy is better spent on working to be our best.

“…I will feel good all of the time.”
Anyone who has lived any length of time knows this just isn’t so. Performers, especially, need to learn that no matter how consistently they perform, sometimes it just isn’t going to feel good. The sooner we accept this fact, the happier we will be and the better we will be able to feel most of the time!!

At this juncture, it might be safe to say that the Perfectionists’ Creed is bunk! In this same session I challenged the performers to write a new and improved creed. The following are 10 mantras that came out of that very productive exercise:

10 Mantras for Fearless Performing: A New Creed

1. I am READY.

As Dr. John Skidmore, performance coach, has said. It isn’t a “Ready? Not really! Go anyway!” attitude that’s going to cut it. It is READY? “Yes, I am prepared!”, SET? “Yes, it is time to have fun!”, GO! Perform like I know I can!!

2. I fear no one and nothing except the temptation to hold back.

Stepping up and taking risks will lead to more success than holding back. What have you got to lose? Next time you perform, stare fear in the face and PERFORM anyway!

3. My worth as a human being is not affected by the result of any performance, competition, or judgement.

For some performers, learning to separate your self-worth from your self-confidence is quite a task. Confidence and self-worth or self-esteem are often used interchangeably, but in reality, they are two very different concepts. Confidence is the strength of your belief in your abilities and skills and self-esteem is how you feel about yourself. Confidence may be different in different situations and with different tasks, but self-esteem needs to be constant. Many performers could use work in this area.

4. I am separate from what I do.

See above paragraph!

5. I choose to forgive my own imperfections.

Choosing to forgive mistakes and accept ourselves as we are is the first step toward conquering our fear and freeing us to perform.

6. By choosing forgiveness, I am choosing the brightest, simplest, most pure form of happiness that I can access.

Just recognizing and affirming this fact is an incredible gift you can give yourself!

7. I embrace the opportunity to improve.

For many performers admitting the need to improve is not an easy thing to do. Embracing improvement as an opportunity, rather than lamenting the fall of perfection, is downright decadent! This is another gift you deserve!

8. The worries of this world feel weightless when I am my own best friend.

As performers, you have enough critics. You don’t need to jump on that band wagon. Learn to become your own best friend and coach. Say things to yourself that you would expect a good friend to say to you. Learning to encourage yourself regularly is a tool all fearless performers own. Practice this daily.

9. I will embrace every aspect of the journey.

The operative words here are “every aspect.” This means embracing the extra practice for an upcoming competition, the background research on a new piece of music, the “woodshedding” you need to do to learn a difficult section for your next lesson and even the mistakes or set-backs that you can use as great lessons. Learning to embrace and enjoy the process is a wonderful thing.

10. I choose to move in one direction: FORWARD.

I recently heard someone say that in the beginning of time, eyes were placed on the front of our heads so that we would get a crick in our neck turning to look backward. I really like this. Performers spend lots of time looking back—not in the good way of reviewing and evaluating—but in judging and bashing and regretting. Choose to move forward.

Consider these 10 mantras or affirmations as steps you need to take to become a fearless performer! There are surely more than ten! I would really like to hear YOUR mantras. What do you say to yourself to help you perform without fear?

Author's Bio: 

Dr. Diana Allan is a soprano who has appeared in operatic and concert performances throughout the Mid- and Southwest. She has also performed in Germany, the Czech Republic, Italy, and Brazil. Dr. Allan has sung such leading operatic roles as Violetta in Verdi’s La Traviata, Rosalinda in Johann Strauss’s Die Fledermaus, Despina in Mozart’s Cosi fan tutte, Leatitia in Gian Carlo Menotti’s The Old Maid and the Thief and has extensive oratorio experience. In addition to operatic and oratorio performances, Dr. Allan created the role of Eeba Streeba, a character in the children’s television program, Cat Paws in Motion, which has aired on Public Broadcasting Stations throughout the United States.

In addition to her own public performing, Dr. Allan has over 20 years university level teaching experience and currently teaches on the faculty of The University of Texas at San Antonio. Her current research interests include mindfulness, mindful learning, cognitive strategies for performers and incorporating the teaching of those strategies in applied music instruction.

With over two decades of teaching experience Dr. Allan has worked with performers of all ages and all performance levels who have achieved great success, however, many have struggled with performance issues such as confidence, trust, limiting beliefs, focus, motivation, fear and anxiety. In her experience, it became increasingly apparent that technical practice was not the only kind of skill development that was necessary for all performers to enjoy strong and successful performances. The development of effective mental skills was an area that musicians did not really pay much attention to. This motivated Dr. Allan to study counseling, cognitive-behavioral strategies, sport psychology, and to eventually become a certified Mental Game Coaching Professional (MGCP).

Using her MGCP training, Dr. Allan, Peak Performance Coach, works with musicians to help them identify and assess their performance strengths and challenges, to formulate customized mental game plans, and to learn and improve effective mental skills that can lead to peak performances.

In addition to working with musicians to help them to improve their performances, Dr. Allan is also co-founder of The Mindful Performer, an annual interactive workshop for musicians who want the opportunity to break through the physical and mental barriers that stand between them and their full performance potential.