Practice anxiety: Tool #12

Your practice notebook is your friend!

Your practice notebook is your friend!

Three things – a practice exercise

Why? One of the things that can lead to anxiety around music practice is the same thing that can lead to anxiety around performance – you probably just don’t notice it as much. When you’re on stage, you might notice the negative thoughts that you have and how much they affect your performance by interrupting your focus, heightening your nerves, and becoming self-fulfilling prophecies about major mistakes. The thing is, you’ve probably practiced these thoughts right in – in the practice room.

Next time you practice try to keep a tally of all of your negative thoughts and all of your positive thoughts, even just for 10 minutes. Notice how few of the negative thoughts are actually constructive. Many of them instead will be sweeping generalisations: “This is too difficult for me”, “I’ll never get this passage”, “I’ll never play it like so-and-so”, “Why do I even try”… And positive thoughts, if they happen at all, are probably just as non-specific: “My sound is good today”, “Wow, I got that bit!”, etc.

Here is a simple exercise you can incorporate into every practice session to help increase the number of specific and helpful positive thoughts you deliver to yourself (and it might be useful to know that positive feedback is more useful than criticism).

What? This exercise is called “Three Things” and is taken from the Bulletproof Musician online course (highly recommended if you can afford it … great thing to ask for as a Christmas present!). Have your practice notebook open next to you while you practice. After your practice session write down three things:

1. One specific thing that went well
2. One specific thing that improved
3. One instance of great effort

The idea is to make sure each of these things is as specific as possible. In order to do this, you’ll be forced to be thinking throughout your practice session what these positive things you could write down might be. If something is really not going well in your practice session, then remember that it might end up being either thing number 2 or 3, which will give you a positive way of looking at the challenge. And the positive feedback you’ll give yourself will help you to know more specifically how to approach the next practice session to get the same successful results.

This is just a starter exercise to help you increase the number of positive thoughts you have in a practice session. It’s a long journey to change the kind of learned thinking that results in more negative thoughts, and know that this exercise alone probably won’t eliminate them, but it’s a good step in the right direction.