Rayvox’s brand new Voice Monday email arrived earlier this week, and one of the featured articles in it made me pause what I was doing and think about Perfectionism in my performing life.
The article in question is “Does Perfectionism Get a Bad Rap? The Right (and Wrong) Way to Be a Perfectionist” from the excellent Bulletproof Musician site by Noa Kageyama PhD. It’s really well written and worth a read
Two types of perfectionism
Noa Kageyama lists two types of perfectionism
1. perfectionistic strivings (“having high standards of performance, and striving to meet these standards”)
2. perfectionistic concerns (“all the worrying we do about mistakes, the disappointment and frustrations of falling short, and the fears about what others will think of us”)
The balance between these two will indicate how successful we are at dealing with perfectionism.
It made me think about the way I deal with my own perfectionism. And trust me, it’s been a struggle!
Is my performing perfect?
I used to completely freeze if I made what I perceived to be a mistake. I’d be worried what the audience thought about me. I’d believe that there were people in the audience who could perform far better than me, and they were actually taking notes about all the things I did “wrong” so they could criticise.
I’m fortunate that I’ve given many thousands of performances over the years, but once I had stagefright so badly that I literally had to be pushed on the stage. Those comedy film moments where you see someone staggering onto the stage looking behind them? That was me.
Labels, focus & reality – 3 solutions to perfectionism in performing
So why do I enjoy performing so much now? And how did I manage to tame the perfectionist in me?
It’s to do with labels, focus and reality.
1. Labels: Nerves and excitement carry very similar messages in the body. So simply mislabelling can cause a lot of problems. Deciding to call this weird feeling you get before a performance “excitement” was a real turning point in my ability to perform consistently. It’s an odd twist of the mind but it worked really well for me.
2. Specific focus: As a collaborative pianist I play whatever is put in front of me, whether it’s a Musical Theatre blockbuster, a contemporary classical world premiere or a Beatles anthem. It also means that I have had to play hundreds of pieces I don’t at first like. It became a conscious challenge to find something in every piece I played that I could love, that I wanted to share with the audience.
It’s an incredibly powerful exercise, that helped me learn and perform many pieces I didn’t originally resonate with, and it gets me out on the stage to share the thing I love.
3. Reality: Which brings me to the title of the article. The best I can do today. Perfectionism in its raw form does not include reality. The reality of every performance is “today, this is what I have. Today is what I share. Tomorrow it might be different”.
I learned that from experience and also from an interesting true story I heard of a flautist. He was due to play the first half of a recital, with another instrumentalist playing the second half. He went out and played his half of the recital programme, and came off saying “that was really bad, if I only had the opportunity to go straight back on and play again, it would be so different.” Well, he got the opportunity as the soloist in the second half hadn’t turned up. So he went back on to play his pieces again. And played even worse.
The belief that “if only blah blah blah” is a powerful one – if only I could do it again, if only I’d had more time, if only I was a different person.
Once I decided that I could only do what I do, given who I was, where I was and what had happened in my real life up to that day, the whole perfectionism thing changed for me.
I’m still wanting to do the absolute best I can, but I can bring some reality into it now. That’s who I really am TODAY, and that’s what you get.
According to the Swedish researchers who studied this, that means I moved from Group 2 High perfectionistic strivings + high perfectionistic concerns – (unhealthy perfectionists) to Group 1 High perfectionistic strivings + low perfectionistic concerns – (healthy perfectionists).
I’m good with that!
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Check out Noa’s original article here
Check out the Swedish research he talks about here – Self-esteem and perfectionism in elite athletes effects on competitive anxiety and self-confidence https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S0191886901000927
And sign up for Rayvox’s Voice Monday email here
PS This is me. Today. Hope that’s perfect for you.