Cultivating Confidence: Rehearsal Strategies for Solo Performers

Cultivating Confidence: Rehearsal Strategies for Solo Performers

Overcoming the Pitfalls of Performance Anxiety

I have struggled with feelings of unworthiness for as long as I can remember. From the outside, my life looked pretty perfect when I was growing up – my parents had a happy marriage, they were supportive, and we were more than comfortable financially. Yet, I had this deep sense that something was wrong with me.

My most painful moments were at parties. When I went to Black parties, my friends made fun of me because I was rhythmically challenged and I couldn’t get my awkward middle-school body to mimic the latest dance moves. Then, as the only Black girl at parties associated with my predominantly white school, I was never chosen to dance. I felt like I didn’t belong.

So, at around the age of 12, I decided that the way to cure these feelings of unworthiness was perfection. Simple, right? If I was just perfect, then I would fit in, I would be chosen, I would really be happy. I threw myself into formal dance classes, worked hard in school, and tried to be a supportive and selfless friend. My self-esteem was high when I got good grades and felt included, but it crashed when I didn’t do well academically or was left out.

I held on to the hope that if I could just find someone to love me, then I would finally feel worthy. In college, busyness became my key strategy for trying to feel worthy. I juggled classes and tutoring with the Black Student Union, student government, gospel choir, and step team – I barely gave myself time to breathe, to think, to be.

After college, my attention turned to trying to find a relationship to fill the void. The anxiety and ups and downs I experienced in this quest were exhausting. I remember going out to bars and clubs, and just like in junior high, I was rarely the one chosen to dance. I began to question my attractiveness with my brown skin and kinky hair, and whether I’d ever be accepted by a potential partner.

I held on to the hope that if I could just find someone to love me, then I would finally feel worthy. I’ll let you in on a secret – none of it worked. Not the perfectionism, the busyness, the relationships. Well, maybe some of it did for a moment. Right after starting a new relationship or getting a good grade, I felt worthy. But soon enough, my feelings of self-worth slipped away, and I was onto pursuing the next thing. As soon as I reached the bar I had set for my worth, it was raised yet again.

Have you ever experienced that?

Cultivating Unconditional Self-Worth

After several years of therapy, spiritual growth, and a PhD in clinical psychology, I’ve finally begun to cultivate an unconditional self-worth and shed the belief that I’m not good enough. I’m embracing myself – quirks and all – and this new path is liberating, enlivening, and life-giving.

Unconditional self-worth is the sense that you deserve to be alive, to be loved and cared for, to take up space. It’s distinct from our abilities and accomplishments. It’s not about comparing ourselves to others, and it’s not something that we can have more or less of. Unconditional self-worth is the foundation upon which we can build confidence and resilience as musicians.

I believe there are many factors that cause us to feel unworthy as performers. Ads tell us that we need to buy things to be loved, accepted, or to succeed. Our educational system teaches us that our worthiness as students is based on our grades or test scores. Our parents may have implied they’d love us more if we made the honor roll or the varsity team. And as social media pervades our lives, we have also begun to feel that our worthiness is based on the number of followers we have and likes we get.

Whatever the cause, for many of us, our self-worth is tied to our accomplishments and possessions. As soon as we fail or lose approval, we experience low self-worth. Unconditional self-worth is the antidote to this cycle of shame and self-doubt. It is a way out of self-criticism, depression, anxiety, and unhealthy behavior. It is time for us, as musicians, to base our worth on the fact that we are human, and to cultivate a sense of worth that persists even when life does not go as we hoped.

Strategies for Building Confidence

So, how do we make this vision of unconditional self-worth a reality? As a clinical psychologist and passionate speaker on this topic, I’ve developed a set of strategies that can help us, as musicians, build unshakable confidence in our performances.

Embrace Imperfection

Many of us struggle to feel worthy because we are angry with ourselves about past mistakes. Forgiveness involves acknowledging and accepting what has happened. Acceptance releases us from blaming ourselves and others, and allows us to move forward. To forgive yourself, reflect on the circumstances that led to past mistakes, acknowledge the pain you experienced, and identify what you learned from the situation. Then, say to yourself, “I forgive you,” in an honest and kind way.

Accept Yourself As You Are

I think many of us struggle with low self-worth because we think there’s something wrong with us, and we refuse to accept ourselves the way we are. We receive so many messages that we are not OK the way we are. We’re told that we need to change our bodies, our clothes, our jobs, or even our personalities to be acceptable. See if you can let go of the thoughts you have about how the way you think, feel, or look should be different. Instead, focus on the things you like about yourself. Over time, begin to embrace your quirks – your awkward laugh, your crooked smile, your unusual way of thinking about things. Through this acceptance, you’re acknowledging that you are worthy just the way you are.

Offer Yourself Compassion

When life gets rough, many of us abandon ourselves during times of challenge. We engage in harsh self-criticism, which only leaves us feeling worse. What we need most when we are going through a difficult time is for someone to say, “I see you. I see how badly you’re hurting. I’m here.” We can do this for ourselves. The next time you experience emotional pain, acknowledge how you were feeling and offer yourself some comfort. Place your hand on your chest, give yourself a hug, or say something kind and soothing to yourself.

Connect with Others

Low self-worth can leave us feeling isolated and alone. When we think there’s something wrong with us, we tend to pull away from our relationships, and this isolation only exacerbates our feelings of unworthiness. Knowing that we are not alone in our struggles and pain reminds us that challenges don’t make us unworthy. Connecting to people who are supportive helps us to get in touch with our humanity and our sense of worth.

Harnessing the Power of Mindset

Shifting your mindset isn’t just about positive thinking – it’s about adopting a perspective that empowers and nurtures your growth as a musician. These mindset shifts pave the way for a more resilient and confident performer, one who approaches each performance with a sense of self-assurance and a willingness to learn and evolve.

Remember, setbacks are not roadblocks – they’re detours on your journey to mastery. Each setback offers invaluable lessons and opportunities for growth. Rebuilding confidence isn’t about erasing the memory of disappointment, but rather using it as a catalyst for improvement and renewed determination.

Putting it All Together

Throughout this exploration, we’ve unveiled an array of techniques and mindset shifts designed to fortify confidence in music performance. Now, it’s time to bridge the gap between knowledge and action.

Apply these strategies not just in moments of performance, but in every step of your musical journey. Practice mindfulness and mindset shifts aren’t mere concepts – they’re tools. Use them before stepping onto the stage, during rehearsals, and even in your daily life. Integrate them into your routine to nurture a resilient and confident approach to music performance.

Remember, building confidence is an ongoing journey, rather than a destination. Each performance, each setback, and every moment of growth contributes to your evolution as a musician. Embrace the journey with open arms, knowing that every step forward, regardless of size, enhances your confidence and shapes you into a more compelling performer.

As you navigate this path, be patient and compassionate with yourself. Celebrate victories, learn from challenges, and continue refining your craft with an unwavering belief in your ability to captivate audiences with your music. Now, it’s time to step onto the stage not as a musician plagued by doubt, but as a confident performer armed with techniques fortified by a resilient mindset and fueled by the passion for music.

Let your confidence resonate through each note, each melody, and each expression, creating an unforgettable experience for both yourself and your audience. It’s your time to shine, and with the right strategies in hand, your musical journey is poised for remarkable performances ahead.

Discover more about building confidence and overcoming performance anxiety at the Musical Theater Center, where we’re dedicated to empowering musicians to reach new heights of self-assurance and artistic expression.

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