All my life, I've enjoyed reading professional and personal development books.
I am that annoying person that stands along the aisle of Kinukuniya preventing you from accessing the motivation or business section because I am half-way through some book that really, I should just purchase (as I always end up doing).
And I always love triangulating what I learn into the lessons and training we offer.
Singing is such a holistic, and full-bodied experience (at least once you know what you're doing!) that it is uncommon to have confident students straight away. This may surprise you, but in my almost 20 years of teaching beginners and professionals, it is rare to come across students or clients who exude confidence in singing straight away.
It can be intimidating, at every level.
This brings me to my recent read: Gay Hendrick's The Big Leap (2009).
I highly recommend it for all the wonderful and helpful insights into our personal lives, but what interested me most is in its dissection of why we avoid doing the things that may light us up most (and we are all guilty of this):
According to Hendrick, we fall into a survivalist mindset each time we take 'The Big Leap' into a space we may wish to explore for our personal growth: we worry, criticise or blame, deflect positivity, argue or worse, fall into an inadvertent body response or illness/accident (Hendricks, 2009, pp. 64-93) in lieu of doing the thing we most want to do, or say the thing we most wish to express.
It's fascinating to notice this in action. Here are some examples of self-sabotaging statements that I, and many of our students, have said before:
Worry and Blame: I am so scared of singing in front of you. You're like, a professional!
Worry: My wife/husband/family don't know I'm doing this. They'd laugh at me. (We come across this a lot!).
Deflecting Skill: I think I have a nice voice but it's really not that great and I really don't know what I am doing.
Blame: I don't have the time to learn that, but have always wanted to (this is my own! A disguise for being scared of trying something new in my own life...Ice Skating!)
Worry and Blame: I can't do that because [insert someone here] isn't going to like it.
Inadvertent Body Response: The moment I tried to say something that mattered to me, my voice stopped working. (Quite a common somatic response).
It's rough terrain!
And I highly doubt any of us are immune to a little - or a lot - of self-sabotage.
When it comes to our work as singers and teachers, these mindset gremlins show up quite often. For professional performers, they can show up every time we hop on stage.
Yet, they are are merely signals of existing blocks to pursuing or improving one's interest and passion.
So how does one overcome these gremlins?
Here are some mindset tips from my experience as a singer, performing artist, and teacher.
Find the source. Is there a story around singing or your voice that you are connected to, perhaps as a child or as an adult, that needs to be resolved or explored?
Aim for small shifts. Watch videos. Read books. Trawl our blog posts! Educating yourself on a topic raises your curiosity, and decreases the 'scare-factor'. We have students who have followed our newsletter for years before finally having the courage to come in for a lesson. Take your time.
Be compassionate. Yes, it sounds woo woo, but you, as Hendrick's so aptly wrote, are fighting against "thousands of years of programming that adversity is a constant requirement of existence" (Hendricks, 2009, p. 75). Your body is far more wired for safety and remaining comfortable, than it is for pursuing something new, risky or scary (and learning something new such as singing can be all those things). Recognise that it's an in-built mechanism we all share.
Start doing. Take baby steps if you must. Try a singing exercise. Sing a simple song. Stack your confidence gently, and slowly. Start small.
But most importantly...Commit to it. Consistency will win over quantity (and even quality). Someone who tries to sing one scale 100 times, over a year, will develop more than someone who sings 20 scales, 10 times a year. Time will pass anyway. Have a go, and have a go as many times as you can.
I unequivocally state: Learning something new does something magical to you.
It expands your knowledge, increases your transferrable skillsets, reduces your risk for Dementia (Brown, 2018), allows you to connect with new pockets of socio-culture, and deepens your relationship with yourself.
And it inspires you. It’s ripple effect will reach across other areas of your life.
So don't let those gremlins stop you! The water is warm in here...jump in!
Dr. Veronica Stewart is the director and head trainer of The Sydney Voice Studio. She researches, writes and lectures on topics related to Voice, Creative Practice, Singing and Socio-culture, and Arts Entrepreneurship.