Be Your Own Singing Performance Coach

Leading creativity coach Eric Maisel aims to help singers past destructive thoughts.

Dr. Eric Maisel has developed a new psychology called natural psychology that focuses on our meaning needs and our meaning challenges.

We’ve caught up with him to hear how this applies to singers facing demons on and off stage.

Many of us just accept that it’s going to be tough to be on stage and face judgments by others – are you saying that our lives can be easier?
No, harder :-) I actually think that each of us needs to prove the exception and do a little more than the next person because that’s the way we actually manifest our values and our principles and realize our goals and our dreams. We aren’t really looking for ease or happiness in life, though we wouldn’t mind a bit of either.

That’s intriguing.  If we don’t want happiness, what do we want?
What we want is to make ourselves proud of our efforts. We can decide to let meaning trump mood—that is, we can decide that we are going to make meaning today, make some meaning investments and seize some meaning opportunities, irrespective of what mood we find ourselves in. Will we get criticized in life? You bet. Will we have bad hair days and bad singing days? You bet. Will we face a Darwinian world of competition and everything else that nature has to offer? You bet.

It doesn’t sound easy.

Maybe it will actually make life easier surrendering to the fact that life isn’t easy. Make yourself proud and forget about all the rest.

OK. What about those times when we think, “I should just give up” – is there a way out of this emotional distress?
Yes. The simple answer is to get a grip on your own mind. Just because you had a thought doesn’t mean that you have to countenance that thought. Rather than countenancing a thought like “I should just give up” or “There are so many talented singers” or “I hate promoting myself” or “I don’t have the connections” or “Other people have more advantages” or … you name it … rather than countenancing such a thought, you dispute it.

What are the best ways to dispute negative thoughts?
You say, “No, that thought doesn’t serve me!”—and you substitute a more affirmative, more helpful thought. This sort of cognitive work is profoundly important and too few people engage in it, even though it will make all the positive difference in the world.

In your view what is the most common enemy to a productive performing career?
Golly, I have to name just one? In my Your Best Life in the Arts Class (which you can find online), I explain a dozen enemies, from a lack of confidence to meaning crises to identity crises to marketplace difficulties to addiction issues to … well, you get the idea.

Does anything come up more than others?
If I had to name just one it might be the extent to which performers are self-unfriendly in their cognitions and derail themselves a trillion times a day by the sorts of things they say to themselves.

If you were behind the stage with a singer who was dreading their performance, what tricks would you pull out your bag to help them out?
Oh, you mean right in the moment? In the moment it would have to be something active and quick—maybe a “discharge technique” like silent screaming, a “reorienting technique” like turning away from the audience and glancing at some ad on the green room bulletin board, a simple breathing technique or, better yet, a breathing-and-thinking technique of the sort that I describe in my book Ten Zen Seconds, maybe some quick disidentification work to remind the performer that she isn’t her performance, maybe a simple relaxation techniques, as simple as a shoulder rub … there are plenty of things to try! I cover them all in two of my books, Mastering Creative Anxiety and Performance Anxiety.

So, what makes your message different to the therapist down the street?
Well, I don’t do therapy :-), although I am a licensed psychotherapist. I don’t much believe in the underlying idea of therapy—that is, the idea of “diagnosing and treating mental disorders.” Rather, I coach. And I coach in a special way, blending and making use of creativity coaching ideas (I founded that profession) and natural psychology ideas about creating and maintaining meaning (I developed natural psychology, too, because it was needed!).

So you’re a coach who uses psychology?
To say it simply, I’m an action-oriented, goal-oriented sort of guy but I also know that if we don’t get questions of meaning on the table we won’t really get the work done.

Check out Eric Maisel’s brand new website where you can access his latest book describing natural psychology and get some really helpful hints about creating personal meaning: http://www.naturalpsychology.net/

Eric Maisel, Ph.D., is a psychotherapist, bestselling author of 40 books, and widely regarded as America’s foremost creativity coach. His latest books are Natural Psychology: The New Psychology of Meaning (available at www.naturalpsychology.net) and Rethinking Depression: How to Shed Mental Health Labels and Create Personal Meaning (New World Library, February, 2012). Please visit Dr. Maisel at www.ericmaisel.com or contact him at ericmaisel@hotmail.com.