It’s a common scenario: We muster the courage to share a tune with someone (or someones). But once we start playing, our mind sabotages us.
We talk nonsense to ourselves. Like a berserk monkey, our inner dialog makes a mess of our focus and concentration. This lack of focus scares us, and we freak out (adrenaline, stress, palpitations)
So what can we do to quiet this inner dialog? Here are three possibilities.
Tip #1: Soften the Muscles Around Your Eyes
One way to quiet the inner chatter is to soften the muscles around our eyes.
To help this, we can notice the edges (the periphery) of our vision. This brings our focus away from “pin-spot” focus, to a broader, softer focus. And this broader focus activates the parasympathetic nervous system.
The parasympathetic nervous system calms us down. It tells our body that everything is okay. It reverses the “fight or flight” responses and helps us relax. Good bye “stage fright”. Adios performance anxiety.
Tip #2: Release the Back of Your Tongue
Another way to quiet the inner dialog is to release the muscles in the back of the tongue.
1. Let your tongue widen and come to rest over your back teeth
2. Notice the slight tugging on the middle and/or back of your tongue.
3. Stop the tugging (just do it, don’t use words or tell yourself anything). If you need to, softly exhale through your mouth.
To talk to ourselves, we use the muscles in our tongues. It’s as if we’re speaking aloud (only not).
We may not notice all the small movements in our tongue when we talk to ourselves, especially if our entire tongue is flexed (if our tongue is hard).
Releasing the tongue muscle stops the talking.
Tip: if you need to, gently bite the tip of your tongue between your front teeth.
Also, we combine this tip with tip #1 for double focusing power!
Tip #3: Use Your Inner Dialog to Guide the Action
If we’re in the moment and the inner dialog is raging, we can also use it for good.
Instead of letting the chatter run the show, we can choose what our internal voices will say.
We can direct the action. We can say nice things to ourselves. Or, perhaps more useful, we can repeat reminders that help us focus on each musical moment.
Instead of distracting inner conversation, we can call the shots. We can verbally (silently) tell our hands what to do.
After a few moments of this, we may find that the inner voice quiets, and we’re calm, focused and aware (the best way to play guitar).
Bonus Tip: Practice in Practice
It may seem that the inner chatter is something that only comes up when we’re on the spot. But more likely, it’s always there, in the background. We only notice it in moments of extreme awareness, such as when we play for people.
How we practice is how we play.
How we practice is how we play. If we allow our minds to become distracted in practice, our minds will also become distracted in performance.
So the best way to ensure that performances are focused and successful is to program our “autopilot” to focus by default. And we do this by focusing in practice. Over time, we automatically enter a calm, focused and aware state when we sit down to play.
When we use our guitar practice time to train our “focus muscles”, we not only increase our chances of a successful performance, but we also enjoy our practices more.