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Resilience, zooming out, get on the CBT train.

In my last blog I spoke about resilience and how it is a necessary requirement of being a musician. We are challenged in far more ways than the average career path (dare we call it that?).  My personal approach to the music industry and the daily challenge of being a musician is a pluralistic one. There is no right or wrong way and the personal journey and how we experience it is a mixture of nurture and nature. I believe we come into this world with a set of traits and a propensity to experience different levels of emotional sensitivities. Our genetic programming can then get exacerbated by the environmental conditions we find ourselves thrown into.

Anyway, what does this have to do with being a professional musician? Well, I believe the commercial music environment is a difficult one due to our position of being under the public gaze and the innate exposure to both criticism and validation. It can put us under stress but also prompt incredibly exhilaration. I view this interaction of nurture/nature and the subsequent environmental conditions of the music industry as a cocktail of potential outcomes leaving us on a continuum between struggle and contentment.

So….getting back to ‘resilience’. Cultivating resilience can be a buffer against some of the adversities of our journey. In the previous blog I explained what I perceive resilience to be, the ability to bounce back, to get through, to regulate ourselves emotionally.  So how can we cultivate resilience? Existing research approaches the topic of resilience in a variety of ways. I personally view the cultivation of resilience from a variety of perspectives ranging from cognitive resources (thinking patterns), somatic (body) strategies, how we relate to ourselves and how we relate to others.

In this first blog I will give a brief overview of some cognitive strategies we can use to cultivate resilience or develop our ability to remain calmer in stressful situations. The first ‘tip’ is based from a CBT (Cognitive Behavioural Therapy) perspective and challenges our thoughts through expressing them objectively by writing them down. One thing I have found personally useful is to write down some of the thoughts I have (post performance) to allow me to get some distance from these internal chatterings.

For example, a recent performance prompted the following critical thought process.

Thought: My guitar was out of tune which caused my first song to sound weak! This resulted in the person at the back (by the bar) being disinterested and negatively judging me.

As an initial reflective process, this strategy can help us to put these (negative) thoughts outside of ourselves. To increase the potency of this strategy I then question the extent to how I know these statements to be true, almost holding them up to judge and jury!

For example, this could be:

How do I know for sure this ‘person at the back of the bar was’ disinterested?

I would then list arguments for and against my internal statements which results in a different set of outcomes to shift my initial thought process. This could look like the following.

How do I know this ‘person’ was disinterested?

1.He looked visually unimpressed


What else could have prompted this reaction from him?   

1.     He could have been drunk?

2.     He could have been in a different emotional state entirely disconnected from his listening to me?

3.     I could have misread his emotional state entirely?


As you can see, this list could go on forever with some creative and practical ‘reframing’ perspectives. I’m not suggesting that this technique will work for every dilemma you have but it can be helpful when getting lost in our own ruminative thought processes which we, I, can find ourselves/myself circling around and around in times of difficulty. Just by reflecting upon and challenging these thought processes we can save ourselves hours of self-flagellation by just stepping back. This is partly how I view the cultivation of resilience, by using these psychological scaffolds we can store in our toolbox of resources as performers.

Next week I will look at the somatic and other embodied tools that may prove useful to those of us under the watchful eye of the public as we navigate musical performances.


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