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Part 5: Make sure you’re prepared to face challenges

Change your attitude to mistakes – and have a plan.

The true test of your mental strength isn’t how well you play when everything’s going well. What really tells you if you’ve “got it” or not is how you react to problems.

A huge part of this is how you deal with mistakes.

First, understand that they’re normal. There’s no way to eliminate mistakes completely and that’s okay – you’re only human.

Playing music involves complex motor skills, difficult cognitive skills, and synchronising all this with other musicians in real time. It’s simply not possible to get everything right all the time. Even the very best musicians don’t do this.

More than that: mistakes are desirable.

The only way to keep the number of mistakes you make close to zero is to spend your entire time operating well short of what you’re capable of.

So, you need to make a decision: Are you willing to trade occasional mistakes for the possibility of playing to your full potential?

And when you change your attitude, a funny thing happens…

If you’re relaxed about mistakes, they happen less often. And the few that do happen throw you less far off track.

Develop A Recovery Protocol

Even though you’re not aiming to eliminate mistakes, you still want to be in control of how you react.

Damage limitation is important. The initial mistake is usually not a big deal. But your reaction to it can cause you to go into a downward spiral.

We want to stop that at all costs. And we’ll do that with a simple recovery protocol:

  1. Accept the mistake and resist the temptation to analyse it
  2. Relax your key muscles.
  3. Repeat your recovery cue [it could be “now”, “here”, “keep going” or whatever works for you]
  4. Focus on your process. Bring yourself back to the present and what you need to be doing right now to play your best
  5. Don’t overcompensate. Resist the temptation to make up for the mistake by playing amazingly. Get back to solid first.

Like the other tools, your recovery protocol eventually needs to be automatic. And like letting go, it may cause extra mistakes at first. So, start in a simple safe environment and gradually increase the complexity and pressure once you get it working well.

Have Contingency Plans Available

Finally, the environment and people around you can throw challenges your way. These can happen during the performance itself, but they’re just as common before a performance.

They’re unpredictable – but you’ve got to be able to handle them if you want to play your best.

The first task is learning to accept them.

If something “bad” happens, you could spend all your time and mental energy wishing things were different. This will guarantee that you’re not in a Flow state.


You could accept the situation and deal with it calmly.

This attitude shift itself will get you most of the way. But you can give yourself an even bigger boost by having a few simple plans in place for issues that are likely to come up.

A plan gives you more mental resources available for music because you don’t have to think about how to respond. It also reduces nerves because you’re less worried that things might go wrong.

One example is a checklist to use before performing. That way you’ll always remember all the equipment you need, and the actions you want to take to reduce nerves and set you up for your best performance.

You might also create plans for adverse conditions, but you can’t plan for everything. So pick only the things that are likely to happen and have a big impact.

Now we’ve covered all the key insights and specific tools. But these are things that need practice to make them effective.

How you do this is the final piece of the puzzle…

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