Top Performers Strategies: 4 – Mental resilience And How To Never Give Up

31 - Mental Resilience

Though learning and applying the best practice regimes there will never going to be a guaranteed 100% bulletproof certainty that it will result in achieving our highest goals.

Olympic champions are a good example of it. To qualify for the competition they have to outstand a vast number of opponents. Once they get to the Olympics their game has to step up even further. These superhuman competitors are astonishingly great at what they do… but when all is said and done that don’t mean much without a gold medal around their neck.

It makes me wonder… There’s so much unrecognized talent in the world. Even worse, there’s so much unrecognized talent degenerating into disappointment and frustration.

Sometimes is hard not to give up. Doubt can settle whether results come or not. Questioning the validity, legitimacy or usefulness of a practice regime, method or option may haunt us for short or long periods of time.

“The problem with the world is that the intelligent people are full of doubts, while the stupid ones are full of confidence.”

Charles Bukowski

This is where mental resilience comes to play (or not). This is where you go home or keep moving forward.

The winners mind is all about perception. The way winners interpret and interact with inner and outer circumstances are the difference maker. Every challenge, difficulty or disadvantage is taken as an opportunity to grow. For winners there are no unfortunate events. Winners build castles out of every stone life throws at them.

Thoughts are closely guarded. The inner dialogue is victorious and uplifting. Can you imagine Muhammad Ali with a loser mentality, a victim’s speech or a concerned look on his face? Of course not! You have to (re)learn how to speak to yourself, not letting get caught in unhelpful dialogues with yourself.

A positive posture favours emotional stability, optimism and personal or professional growth. Always look for the best possibility, solution or outcome. Start seeing the world through this new mantra: YES I CAN!

Motivation moves mountains. A winner actively chose to engage with challenging situations. Self-improvement is not forced but valued and adversity is an essential element to forge a diamond.

Confidence and self-belief is the result of visualization, preparation and past experience; it is knowing that the result is an inevitability and nothing is going to stand in your way.

Inner focus obviates outer noise, distractions, competition or other misleading events. It also empowers you with the ability to disengage from your practice and performance process in periods of rest. After you go out of the gym your mind stops thinking about lifting weights, right? Can you imagine how stressful it would be if you continuously kept thinking (along the day or week) about lifting more and more weights? As you put down the weights after leaving the gym so you should put down your instrument AND thoughts about your practice sessions and performances.

All of the above describe the winners’ character. But there’s one more essential feature to mental resilience: Social Support. The feeling of dependability from family and friends is vital on a champion’s mentality. Building strong relations with coaches, teachers, colleagues or co-workers provide stability and a sense of direction. Non-judgemental guidance and incentive can be comforting, reassuring, and motivating.

We all need love in our lives and sure it’s great to feel the warmth of a crowd, the closeness of fans and the recognition of our peers, critics and public in general. So surround yourself with uplifting people and environment. Your emotional stability is way to precious for you to waste it carelessly.

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Top Performers Strategies: 3 – Strengthening Weak Skills

30 - Streghtening Weak Skills
Strengthening weak skills is the 3rd strategy top performers use to stay ahead in their game.

You may realize a décalage between the amount of attention you give to different working areas or skills. You may realize you concentrate more energy working on stronger skills and keep postponing weaker areas.

An intermediate musician keeps working to improve and strengthen his stronger skills but neglects the weaker ones. On the contrary, advanced musicians focus more on weaker areas, improving what is missing on their playing.

Related to this expert’s ability to expend more effort and energy on specific aspects in need of attention is the control in putting fewer repetitions in the same amount of time.

Experts don’t seem to waste unnecessary movements to performer a task. They prepare internally, focus mindfully, and execute when ready – perfectly, flawlessly. Experts behave like a Zen Master. They don’t talk much but, when they do, they say it all in a few words.

This accurate approach requires more physical and mental effort and willpower. It can be related to a harder or demanding kind of practice and even a less enjoyable or pleasant practice. Think about eating your vegetables when you were a kid. Sweets and candy were much more pleasurable but those awful tasting vegetables kept you healthy.

Thinking and planning are the pre-requisite to become that Zen Master of your instrument. You have to know how to approach your problem, which is the best angle, and the right moment to jump right into it. You have to be an architect before being an engineer. Draw your sketch, elaborate your plan of action and THEN execute.

When building good practice habits you start eliminating frustration, boredom and the sense of falling short. Your practice sessions will become more demanding and exhausting but more productive and effective.

In the end one must engage in thinking and planning about the best approach into tackling weaker skills in order to strengthen them. Focusing on better quality and fewer repetitions is paving the path to fulfillment.

Lastly, spacing, randomizing and varying your practice is what will make it durable and flexible, like second nature. Afterwards you only need to think about WHAT subject you do really want to master. You become what you repeatedly do. Who do you want to become?

Top Performers Strategies: 2 – Maintenance and Improvement

S-Michael Jordan 3_Batting.jpg
Michael Jordan takes batting practice during the spring of 1994, when he was attempting to make the team for the Chicago White Sox.

Michael Jordan is probably the greatest sports performer of all time. Opponents often categorize him as “impossible to stop”. How can you stop MJ? You can’t! Well… there is a way: Don’t let him practice 🙂

Practice leads to skills maintenance and improvement. If you stop practicing you stop improving and, eventually, your peak performance starts fading away. Period.

The statement, as obvious and blasé as it might sound, should make you evaluate what you are actually practicing. It’s not the hours that you put in, it’s what you put in the hours.

What do you put in the hours? You become what you think, what you say and what you do. You become your thoughts, your words and your actions. So what are you REALLY putting in your hours?

If you only practice your scales you’re only going to be able to play scales. You’re not developing the ability to improvise a solo, to be creative, to think outside the box, to go beyond…

Likewise, endless working on transcriptions, ear training or theoretical concepts will only lead you to become great at… transcribing, earing fragments or loose musical concepts (like identifying intervals and triads) and theoretical concepts.

It’s time to evaluate what you are aiming. Think about your real goals and take the right path towards it. Michael Jordan wasn’t aiming to be the best basketball player ever. He aimed at being the most complete player ever. More importantly, he wasn’t thinking that the path to achieve that goal was to perfect his 3-point shooting ability. If he had that thought in him he would only be a great 3-point shooter.

Likewise, being great at transcribing, composing, or identifying what chord your teacher is playing is not the best way to become better at improvising like Miles Davis, Charlie Parker or Django Reinhardt.

And for the sake of honesty… being the best instrumentalist, improviser or interpreter does not make you – automatically – the greatest composer ever.

When I come to think about this subject it becomes clearer to me why some great musicians are so good at improvising but not at all interesting at composing. It becomes clear why some great teachers are not the greatest musicians; why great transcribers or arrangers are not the greatest interpreters; why the greatest accompanist are not the greatest improvisers.

You get good at what you practice. You practice what you do. You do what you are. If you are a procrastinator you will only get better at procrastinating. But if you are a good with words motivator, eventually you’ll become a master at coaching.

The greatest sports performer of all time – Michael Jordan – achieved excellence in his 15 years as a Basketball player, not as a 1 year Baseball player. Still, he was always the first to get to Baseball practice and the last to leave. Jordan was more than a player. He was a competitor. Jordan had IT in him, the ability to keep getting better and better in EVERYTHING he did. Basketball happened to be the sport he played longer, keeping himself in constant maintenance and improvement.

You become great at what you practice. Consciously or unconsciously you are already tracing your path. And there is no right or wrong, no better or worse. Look deep and find out what are you putting in the hours. If you feel good about it and about yourself you’re on your right path.

Subsequently, you may realize a décalage between the amount of attention you give to different working areas or skills. You may realize you concentrate more energy working on stronger skills and keep postponing weaker areas.

More on choosing to work on strong skills or weaker skills next week. Stay tuned and share your thoughts on the comments section bellow.

Top Performers Strategies: 1 – Handling Mistakes

28 - Slow Down 

After studying Top Performers at practice one can observe 5 different strategies used:

1 – Ability to handle mistakes;

2 – Maintenance and improvement;

3 – Focus on weaker areas of expertise;

4 – Mental resilience;

5 – Confidence strengthening.

Let’s go through them all, one by one.

1 – Handling Mistakes

The fundamental concept that sets top performers and high achievers apart is how to handle mistakes. Correcting errors is vital to help us avoid repeating mistakes and leads to a higher proportion of correct trials overall.

Dividing a piece, phrase or lick into chunks simplifies the learning process into a more manageable fashion. It’s like taking our food in smaller bites rather than stuff it down the throat. It becomes more pleasurable, tasteful and digestive.

Thus, slowing things down is THE way to handle, correct and prevent errors.

Think about an awesome HD video footage that suddenly starts slowing speed narrowing down and zooming in a specific detail in the landscape. The director of this footage is intentionally guiding your attention towards the most important element in the visual frame.

While directing your own HD practice session footage, slow things down whenever necessary. Accuracy on motor coordination and earing will be enhanced.

In short, one must accurately identify (1) where each error is and (2) why it occurs. Once you spot it, repeat the passage and correct it until the chunk is stabilized with an absence of errors in subsequent trials.

Prevent those errors by slowing down, anticipating possible mistakes and address them immediately after occurrence.

Also, vary the tempo of the trials in order to grasp the chunk in its essence. Vary slower tempos to get tricky sections crystal clear accurate and speed things up to test your gradual proficiency.

Don’t forget to practice the chunk in its most complete way possible, i. e., work on its inflection, articulation, dynamic, drive, musicality and intention. Grasp the chunk’s singular unity but don’t take off-key components. Don’t decharacterize the material. Work on it with its full nuances from the beginning.

Singing the phrases, taking notes, analyzing fundamental concepts or nuances, recalling and contextualizing are other key ingredients that make you launch your playing to the next level.

Sharpen your ear, eye and motor skills and light up your path to greatness.