I didn't know that! Issue# 20- Self talk

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Self-confidence stems from believing in your own ability. Therefore, strategies that promote positive thinking and positive statements about yourself can be extremely effective. Some performers seem to have a natural tendency to think positively. They see the glass as half full. Others tend to be more pessimistic, dwelling on negatives, on doubts, perpetually seeing the glass as half empty.

If you want to have greater control over your own confidence levels, you will have to develop your own techniques to boost confidence. Most people indulge in some form of self-talk, a term describing what people say to themselves, either out loud or as a small voice in their heads. This talk will be either positive or negative; rarely is it neutral. Performers often demand perfection from themselves and can be very self-critical when they fail to attain it. This negative self-talk adversely affects subsequent performance. Therefore, it is important to counter negative self-talk and induce positive self-talk.

Self-talk can be task-related (e.g., "I must get the phrasing right in the third verse," or, "I must make sure of the preparation for the high B flat"). It can also be emotion-related, where the emotion associated with the experience is the focus of the statement (e.g., "I am afraid of failing in front of all these people").

A good exercise to start the process is this: write down typical negative statements or images you have experienced during practice, audition, and performance. For each one, note whether they are task-related or emotion-related. Then note what happens as a result, what emotions you feel, what effect the statement have on your behavior or performance, what happens to your own confidence.

The next step is to identify the negative thoughts and statements and when they typically occur. Through prompting at key moments and pressure situations you can begin to recognize them.

Turning negative to positive

The first step in changing negative statements is to identify the situations where negative statements regularly occur. This will enable you to change them into positive self-talk, which is more likely to elicit positive behaviors, thus greater self-belief and confidence. As an exercise, turn each negative statement that you identified into a positive one.

When to use self-talk

For most beneficial results, positive self-talk should be used in performance, especially at critical moments such as before stepping onto the stage, following a mistake, or before a difficult moment in the piece. To develop this skill, practice using positive self-talk in practice, e.g., in lessons and coachings. Initially, specific techniques or drills can be isolated to develop the appropriate self-talk in specific situations. Simulated performance can then be used to help you do this. These progressive steps will pave the way.

Remember, self-talk should:
∙ focus only on the immediate task,
∙ evoke strong positive emotions such the will to succeed,
∙ trigger appropriate action, such as the correct approach to a high note,
∙ be brief and easy to remember.

Shirlee Emmons