Be Your Own Teacher: Part 1
Since the next round of the Musician's Mastermind is starting on September 28th, I want to be upfront that this newsletter is an example of the work that takes place in the Musician’s Mastermind. If these topics particularly appeal to you, then know that we will go even deeper into these issues in person in the Mastermind.
Onward to the topic at hand: Be Your Own Teacher
As musicians, we have been trained from a young age to rely on teachers and coaches for expert advice. But what if you could limit your need for outside experts and turn to your own inner guidance more often? In this 2 part newsletter, I’ll give you some ideas on becoming your own teacher. Today, in part 1, I’ll discuss the voices in our heads, how to discern who is doing the talking, and which voices should guide our actions.
We all have many voices in our heads, competing for attention and often in conflict with one another. Don’t believe me? Do you ever find yourself arguing – with yourself? Debating decisions? Over-analyzing the situation? Trying to convince yourself that the audition wasn’t so bad, or wasn’t good enough, or all the other auditioners were much better than you, or….
For today's purposes, I'm lumping the voices into two broad categories – a voice of Criticism and Negativity, and a voice of positive Strength and Support.
The negative voice is the Inner Critic. It shows up in different ways for different people. It might call you nasty names or swear at you. Or it might give you a general sense of anxiety and unease. Or maybe it repeats a negative refrain over and over. Sometimes the Inner Critic sounds like our mother/father/mean undergrad teacher/crazy coach.
The Inner Critic is all about judgement. Right/wrong (a whole lotta wrong), good/bad (a whole lotta bad) dichotomous kinds of thinking. All or nothing with no gray areas, no appreciation for learning from mistakes, growth, improvement, in between, or having both positives and negatives.
The Inner Critic has a lot of ‘shoulds’. You should pursue this audition because it’s what all the good singers are doing. You should study with this teacher because your friend who won the competition studies with them. You should take this job even though your instincts tell you its not the right fit.
We all have some sort of voice like this, because its goal is to keep us safe from harm. Harm might be getting kicked out of the tribe (which, back in cave dweller days would have meant death). Or harm might be getting criticized in an audition. Or maybe there is a legit threat to your physical safety. Or getting rejected in the romance department. You get the idea. There are innumerable possibilities that cause us to feel nervous, insecure, threatened, and they all can trigger the Inner Critic.
With safety as the Inner Critic’s number one goal, it does not care one iota about your career or personal goals. That’s where arguing and conflict often come in. Other parts of our selves have dreams and goals, but the Inner Critic is a fierce and loud voice that can run rampant until dealt with properly.
How does one properly deal with the Inner Critic?
I’m so glad you asked, as I happen to have a great strategy!
Make friends with your Inner Critic.
That’s right, actually making friends with the Critic is a key to stopping the shouting, the arguing, the name calling.
We all have a need to be heard and understood. We have valid points to share, we have input to offer, we have feelings that need airing. Since the Inner Critic has a very important job of keeping us safe, what it needs to settle down is to be heard and understood.
This does not mean you do what the Inner Critic wants – which would lead to a very safe, very boring, unfulfilled life. Instead, listen, address its concerns, and then move forward with the wise voice that we will talk about next.
Your Best Self lives quietly beneath the shouting of the Inner Critic. Your Best Self leads you down paths that feel right and authentic to you, even if they are challenging or scary or vulnerable. Sometimes, those feelings of vulnerability and scary/excitement are a sign that you are listening to the right voice.
Your Best Self is aligned with your dreams, not because they will bring you attention or acclaim or more money, but because they feed you in meaningful ways and help you lead a fulfilling life. Sometimes that will coincide with attention and acclaim and money, sometimes not.
Your Best Self is not about judgement, good/bad, right/wrong. It is about deep satisfaction and coming alive. It knows the things that make you feel your best, but it is not attached to your choices and there are no judgements on your choices. Sounds pretty zen, doesn’t it?
Your Best Self does not follow the ‘shoulds’ of your career, your family, or anyone. There are no ‘shoulds’ in the realm of your Best Self. Sometimes the Inner Critic masquerades as the Best Self when we start ‘shoulding’ about not acting as our Best Self. “My Best Self would be practicing right now. My Best Self wouldn’t have eaten that brownie. My Best Self should be a better person.”
Your Best Self knows that ‘failure’ is experience from which one can learn. Yes, there will be grieving, or licking of wounds, or feeling sad when you’ve fallen. But there is also opportunity for growth, for learning, for improvement.
Your Best Self often knows the answers to decisions, has the musical interpretations that are unique to you, and even might be able to solve some technical problems.
Apply these steps to any practice session, audition, performance, or decision about your career to deal with the Inner Critic and become your own best teacher.
Step 1: Identify which voice is speaking. Get specific with what the voice is saying. Maybe write down the statements or feelings. Or say the statements/feelings out loud. Are the statements in good/bad terminology? Is there judgement? Is there blame? Then you’re dealing with the Inner Critic.
2: Make friends with the Critic. Listen to what it has to say. Give it space to breathe, room to speak. Have a conversation. Take into account its concerns because sometimes it actually has useful advice (like get thee to the practice room pronto!).
3. Quiet down to hear your Best Self. Maybe through a long walk, or journaling, or meditating, or talking to a trusted friend. Be intentional to connect with your Best Self. Write down what comes up for you. (More next week on listening to your recordings from the ear of the Best Self.)
4. Look internally for a feeling of deep resonance and rightness. If this seems like a foreign concept, find something about which you know to be true for yourself. For example, what music do you absolutely love to play or listen to? What music are youdrawn to? How does that feel internally? Where do you know that you love this music? Can you find this feeling of truth and trust in other areas of your life? What if you leaned in and trusted those feelings?
5. Develop the relationship with your Best Self by making decisions that follow the advice of your Best Self. Begin by picking something that feels easy to you. For example, how might you shape this phrase better? Does your Best Self know how to technically deal with this one problem spot? Does your Best Self have input about which auditions to take this season? Again, pick something that feels easy (it doesn’t have to be music related), lean into it, and develop that feeling of trust and connection. Go back to that feeling again and again and see how it might branch out into other areas of your life.
Let me know how these steps work for you, and shoot me an email if you have any questions.
Remember, if this information appeals to you, we will dive deeper in the Musician's Mastermind, starting September 28th. Dealing with the Inner Critic and cultivating your Best Self is a lifetime process. Get in-person support for your own journey through theMastermind!