Contributed by musician, animator, and all around great guy, Mallon Khan.
Throughout most of my youth, I suffered from anxiety and depression. My fear of failure affected my interaction with people and my capability as a musical performer. It affected my craft. For a performer, confidence is important but so is keeping the right mindset. You must be fully in the moment.
A performance is a bit like a race in that if you stumble, you must keep going to finish it. If you are too focused on the missed note or mistake, you are likely to snowball into a series of mistakes because your focus has shifted from the now to a few seconds ago-when you messed up.
I used to practice my music for hours in my room, visualizing the moment when I would be on stage playing each part. The areas I found the most challenging, I began to worry about. I would get it right most of the time, yet those few instances where I struggled to get through, I started to feel like that is the way the live performance would play out.
Soon I began to anticipate those moments in the song. I would tense up and lose track of what I was doing at the moment. It started affecting my playing of the parts before and after my problem area as well.
The most frustrating aspect of this phenomena was that every time I would play a difficult piece, I didn’t know how it would go. It was like there were two potential outcomes: one with me at my best and one with me at my worst. At home, by myself, I was fine. But the moment there were other people watching, my body would disconnect from my mind and it was like a different person was playing.
Today, I work as a composer while occasionally jamming with friends. I no longer have any trouble performing in front of people. Aside from just getting better with practice, adopting the right mindset has played a huge role. Instead of worrying about whether people will think I’m a good performer or notice my mistakes, I concentrate on playing and having fun. I’ve gotten great at ‘staying in the moment’ and not letting possible mistakes derail me.
I understand now that worry is just something built-in to protect me. By pausing to analyze my thoughts, I remember to put things into perspective. The tension and nervousness was a reaction to something my body thought was a threat to my survival. When I remind myself that it’s OK to fail, I can concentrate on what it is that causes me to fail. In that process I actually get better. When I adopt this process in other areas of my life, I find there is a lot I can accomplish with the right mindset.