Performance Anxiety and Setting the Stage for Peak Performance Feb 18, 2019
So one of the perks about being Chinese Canadian is that I get to experience New Year twice. Chinese New Year was on February 5th and this event creates an opportunity for me to feel better about the lack of progress of my newly minted year's goals because for a Chinese person, it hasn't really happened yet. But this year, it also gave me a chance to really determine what has been troubling me these past 2.5 months.
I started reflecting after my anxiety ridden piano performance at the adult recital of my music school (Chinook School of Music) on Sunday evening on Feb 3rd. The weeks leading up to this recital I was not anxious about the upcoming recital at all. I had a sense of complacency because I thought I had it 'licked". I had gone to a number of classical piano meetups and I was able to perform with my music unmemorized and not feel too anxious when I was playing imperfectly while looking at the music. I told Robert, my piano teacher, that for the most part I felt like I had reached a place where I was able to conquer my fear. However, I now realize that this was totally false. My first hint that my performance was about to be de-railed was at our learning group meeting which was conveniently the Saturday morning before. I was anxious and shaking when I played for our small group. I did not know what was wrong with me as it had not happened in the previous meetings.
And at my recital, when it was my time to perform, I was totally shaking when I started playing. However, in spite of my shaking, I was able to get through the Bach piece (Bach prelude BWV 999) because for that piece I had put in a lot of practice hours and so it was a piece I knew backwards and forwards. The reason that I put so much time into that piece was that, for me, it was quite a hard piece to memorize and so I was not secure with it. It was not so with the Schubert Waltz which I had not put many practice hours in but which I felt complacent. But that is what made the difference - overconfidence is not a good mode to be in as you tend not to put in as much work. And my performance reflected this as I was able to play the Bach piece even though I was riddled with anxiety but had major gaffes in the Schubert piece.
After my performance, I began to really reflect why I had been so nervous. I believe it was due to two major reasons. The first was that in November 2018, I experienced something extremely negative and as a result, I internalized all that negativity and started down a road of self-doubt and anxiety. I also stopped doing the one thing that would have helped decrease my anxiety and that is exercise. I had done it religiously for 3 months prior but stopped from that point to the recital.
I think also, at this music school recital, there is a lot riding on the outcome. My piano learning started at this music school so I have a lot of history there. I recognize a lot of other adult music learners so I have followed their evolution as they must follow mine. And I have a lot invested in the outcome so of course I feel nervous. I think that at the classical piano meetups, the audience do not expect much of me so I do not have anything to lose. But at the school recitals, I want to do well to prove to myself (and others) that I really am progressing and to prove that I am worthy of being a student of Robert Motchalov as he is revered as the guru of piano at that school. Yes - so you see - that is a lot to be anxious about! Anxiety is something that I can not completely eradicate and I was wrong in thinking that I had done so. This was overconfidence again and you see how it did me in because I was so surprised at anxiety showing up! I know now that anxiety will probably always show up at any important performance.
However to minimize the anxiety and to set the stage for getting maximum performance from myself, there are a number of things within my control. I can exercise, eat healthy and get plenty of sleep. Taking care of your physical health is so important - it helps with focus and concentration in your mind.
And to combat self-sabotage and quell self-doubt, I will have to be my own best advocate! I will tell you one of the best practices that a life coach taught me to do, that accomplishes just that! What she taught me was to write each of my accomplishments on a piece of paper and to store them in a beautiful container. She said that whenever I start having doubts about my abilities, that I should open the container and slowly read each slip of paper. This activity has always reminded me of my strengths and abilities and has never failed me in the past. But I forgot to do this activity after the November incident. I won't forget again.
And one last comment about combatting anxiety before a performance, Robert
suggested that I use the trick that most musicians use, and that is to eat one or two bananas about a half hour before a performance. I looked this up and there is science behind this as bananas are natural beta blockers. He told me this quite early on and I had forgotten to heed his advice at this recital. I will, for sure, be using his suggestion before the Alberta Piano Teachers Association festival where I have signed up to perform 3 pieces. I will post on FB or IG to let you know the results. Wish me luck!