Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Silencing the Critic Within

On Thursday evening, October 16, 2014, I had the distinct pleasure to participate in an outstanding student recital. Featuring works by Poulenc, Ives, Bellini, and Massenet, the performance was the culmination of a semester of thorough preparation. I felt very confident in my preparation as I walked on stage.

I also felt very tired. The week had been packed with all sorts of activities. As the start of the concert drew near, I began to feel that the week was catching up to me. I was depending on my solid preparatory work to carry me through the difficult program ahead. Thankfully, the recital was well-received and the audience was moved by the music.

As we exited the stage following the opening set -- Poulenc's Tel jour, telle nuit -- I found myself hearing the voice of my inner critic. I knew that I had played the cycle much better than what I had just presented. I was struggling to maintain focus. I was certain that I had disappointed my fellow performer and colleagues. In that moment, I knew how important it was to stay in the present moment and silence the inner critic. But his negativity was so LOUD and persistent!

I don't think my experience is unique. Regardless of what you do, it is easy to allow harsh criticism to rise up within you. Criticism can be a catalyst for improvement when properly handled. Criticism can also be crippling! One of our biggest challenges can be learning how to objectively listen to criticism and how to silence the inner critic when necessary.

Silencing your inner critic is an extremely personal process. Through trial and error, we individually learn the tools we can use to cause the negativity to stop. When I begin to criticize myself in an unproductive way, I intentionally look for things that were successful and think about them. I then remind myself that my worth -- as neither a musician nor a human -- is determined solely by my performance. Perhaps most importantly, I think about why the activity matters to me so much and challenge myself to enjoy the process since rehashing what is already done will not change the past at all.

Thursday's performance was far from perfect, but it was much more successful as I chose to enjoy the music-making instead of punishing myself for past sins. Whether you are performing on a concert stage, in a classroom, or in an office building, my hope for you is the same -- may you continue to live in the moment, enjoying your passionate pursuit as you diligently silence the accusing voice of your harsh inner critic!

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