Words can be wonderful things. Think of Shakespeare, Goethe, Whitman, the Beatles, Tori Amos, Lady Gaga, and YOU. Words help us express ourselves and communicate with each other. The words we use influence the way we think about ourselves and tell others a lot about us . The words we use most often and the mental pictures we create can also be damaging to us and negatively impact our ability to excel.

Consider the following words or concepts that you may use that can have a significant negative impact on your performing and success. The next time you use one of these words or phrases, take a minute to stop and think about what you really mean. You may even want to eliminate these words from your vocabulary. Let’s see…

1. Try: One of the most destructive words we use is “try.” Remember Yoda from Star Wars: “There is no Try. Do! Or do not! “ When we use the word “try,” we are giving ourselves a way out. Many times when we use “try” we are telling ourselves and others that we really don’t believe in ourselves, are not committed, or we don’t really intend to do it! “I’ll try to learn this piece by my next lesson.” “I’ll try to fix this passage before my next rehearsal.” “I’ll try to trust my practice.” needs to become “I will learn this piece by my next lesson.” and “I will fix this passage before my next rehearsal.” “I will trust my practice.” Eliminating “TRY” and replacing it with “WILL” takes us to a new level of commitment.

2. But: When we use the word “but,” we are negating the previous phrase: “I need to practice, but I don’t have time.” “I need to believe in myself and my skills, but I’m not sure I can.” “But” signifies that we think in terms of either/or or in black and white. This is limiting thinking! Free yourself—eliminate the word “but” and replace it with “and” so “I need to practice, but I don’t have time.” becomes “I need to practice and I will find the time to do it!”

3. Hope: Are you filled with hope about the future? Saying “I hope” is not bad—saying “I know” is just infinitely better! “I hope the performance will go well” becomes “I know the performance will go well.” Replacing “I hope” with “I know” reminds us of how committed we really are!

4. Wish: “I wish” is very much like “I hope.” It’s a wishy-washy way to start a sentence. “I wish I felt more confident.” or “I wish I played better.” indicates a lack of commitment and often allows performers to make excuses. Many times “I wish…” is followed by a “but” that states why the wish will not come true. There is a big difference between wishing or wanting excellence and a true commitment to it. The next time you start a sentence with “I wish…” or “I’d like to…” use “I will…” or “I am…” instead.

5. Problem: One performer’s problem is another performer’s opportunity. This must mean that “problems” are a state of mind. “Singing/playing this long phrase in one breath is a real problem.” Replacing the concept of “problem” with that of “challenge” gives us the opportunity to step up and really meet the challenge. “Singing/playing this long phrase in one breath is a challenge and gives me the opportunity to push myself and improve.”

6. Mistake: No one likes to make mistakes. Performers often spend a lot of time and energy working really hard to avoid making mistakes. Mistakes an be like problems though. It’s all in how we look at them. If we view mistakes as little failures, it triggers our fear and we get stuck. Mistakes become deadends. Thinking of “mistakes” as opportunities to learn helps us move forward and improve.

7. Can’t: We often use “I can’t” when we really mean, “I don’t know how…” or “I don’t want to.” Be honest. If you don’t know how, ask–learn. If you don’t want to, don’t do it. “I can’t” is not the language of excellence.

8. Don’t: “Don’t” is difficult to get rid of. When we use “don’t” we are incorrectly focusing on exactly what we want to avoid. “Don’t mess up.” “Don’t miss that note.” “Don’t forget that word.” When our mind hears “don’t” it is immediately alerted to the instruction that follows: “…mess up.” “…miss that note.” “…forget that word.” “Don’t” gets your mind to focus—on exactly the wrong thing. Be specific! Instead of using “don’t” say what you mean: “Don’t mess up.” becomes “I will sing/play boldy!” “Don’t miss that note.” “Don’t forget that word.” both FUTURE statements can become: “I am prepared! Sing/play for NOW—this moment!”

9. If: “If I can’t learn to play/sing this melisma I will…” or “If I don’t memorize this song/this passage I will…” shows how the word “if” sets our minds up to think there is a potential for failure. “When I learn to play/sing this melisma I will….” or “When I memorize this song/this passage I will…” reminds us that even though we will be challenged, when we have a strong enough desire and commitment, we will rise to the occasion and meet the challenge.

10. Why: When faced with a challenge or a frustration, it’s very natural to ask ourselves “why?” “Why can’t I do this, why can’t I learn this more quickly, why do I have to go through this?” When we ask “why,” we aren’t being specific and don’t move closer to our goal(s). If we want to progress and at a quicker pace, we need specific answers. Next time you are faced with a challenge or frustration, replace “why” with “how” or “what.” “How can I do this?” “What are the steps I need to take to learn this?” “What am I learning by going through this?” Ask good questions, get good answers. Get good answers and you will find yourself drawing closer to success.

Think about the power words have.

Choose words or concepts that prepare you for success and indicate your high level of commitment to excellence or choose words that hold you back and sabotage your performances.

The choice is yours.

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.