Acknowledging the positive

by Jun 1, 2018

Beware of your greatest strengths!

Shakespeare is quoted as saying “your greatest strength begets your greatest weakness”.


As performers, one of our most valuable strengths is our skill in self-critiquing. We are highly trained in the ability to judge and evaluate every aspect of our playing from second to second, and this skill is vital for our ongoing development. 

However this very same strength has the potential to be our greatest weakness. As we constantly focus on and evaluate what is wrong or what needs to improve, we can very easily lose sight of what is also working well.

Ask any performer walking off stage or out of a practise session how it just went, and they can easily rattle off a list of the things that weren’t so good or didn’t work as well as they wanted. On the other hand, they’ll probably have much more trouble rattling off a list of things that were successful.

It turns out we are highly trained in self-critiquing and noticing what we want to change but poorly trained at observing and acknowledging our success.

Our greatest strength becomes our greatest weakness – disproportionately focusing on what needs to improve, forgetting to acknowledge what is already working well.

Over time, this approach slowly undermines our confidence and enjoyment, and we lose the ability to robustly back ourselves.

Building your self-support mechanism

Many performers report that as their performing improves and their careers develop oddly their confidence and enjoyment of performing diminishes.

What they used to experience as a positive and exciting ‘thrill’ of performance, is now more often an experience of ‘worry and anxiety’ about whether they will perform well enough to meet expectations.

This dwindling confidence and enjoyment could well be a result of many years of self-critiquing without a balanced acknowledgement of the positive within the mix.

Without a doubt, self-critiquing is a necessary process for development, and one that we must keep honing through our careers.

It is however just as important for our success, health and enjoyment to actively observe and acknowledge what is working well.

“Use it, or lose it”

Just like a muscle that needs to be exercised to build strength and resilience, we must ‘practise’ self-support and acknowledgement of the positive in order to build the ability to support ourselves effectively.

Without this vital positive reinforcement our confidence eventually withers away, just like an unused muscle wastes away. Before you know it your whole performance persona is undermined.

Practising the ability to observe success

When you first start to consciously practise the skill of observing success, it’s highly likely that it won’t come easily.

Like a muscle that hasn’t been used for some time, it will initially be weak. You need to simply start using it and slowly build it’s strength with consistent use over time.

Practising awareness of the positive over and over again, you’ll build a strong new habit of self-support that will eventually become a fully integrated part of your successful and enjoyable performing process.

Developing the skill of observing both the positive and the negative in balance allows for a much more successful, rewarding and enjoyable performing experience – and a much more fulfilling career.

Try this:

Each time you notice a self-critical thought/something that is wrong/something you want to change, consciously acknowledge and celebrate your awareness of that thought.

  • Awareness is key for self-improvement, so positively acknowledge (and perhaps even smile) every time you are aware of your inner critic piping up.
  • Being aware of your thoughts around what you want to change is something to celebrate. These moments of awareness hold great power for change.

Then, aim to find positive and successful elements in equal parts.

  • Initially, you may think there will not be enough (or any) successful elements to acknowledge, but this is your over-active self-critical voice kicking into action.
  • Simply start acknowledging the positives, no matter how small.
  • Practising the acknowledgement of the positive over and over is key – just as you have practised the awareness of what needs to change over and over again.
  • With time and practice acknowledging the positive in equal parts to the negative, this more healthy and supportive process will eventually become second nature.

Make sure to also keep noticing what you are enjoying. With this sort of practice you will begin to experience even more enjoyment and connection to the fun and fulfilment possible from joyful creative performance.

Silver linings the second time around

Having performed the complete cycle of Beethoven’s violin sonatas in February 2020 with American pianist Kate Boyd, we had originally planned to perform the cycle again later that year. But of course, COVID had other plans for us and the soonest that we could rearrange for our second cycle was for 10-17 January 2023 – almost 3 years later.

With the first of these concerts now just a day away, I’ve been reflecting on the new opportunities that presented themselves because of the enforced ‘change of plans’, and the silver linings have been numerous and rather wonderful.

Building Confidence

Radio New Zealang Concert asked me for advice around confidence, and in particular if it can be built.

I believe it can.

You can read what I had to say about it all on their website: Confidence Tricks – some tips for musical performance.

Effort, Age and Survival  

It is over a month since my last blog post and with the 6 weeks that have passed, we are well and truly in mid-summer here in Central Otago.

I have been systematically working through the 10 Beethoven violin sonatas, regularly inspired by the awesome landscapes outside my window, and accompanied by my trusty sidekick – Coco the cat.

It turns out one of the biggest current challenges is physical fatigue.

A reset from the inside out

Having previously performed 6 of the 10 Beethoven violin sonatas more than 20 years ago, it has been a lovely process coming back to the familiar, as well as discovering the new. Primarily due to the work I have been doing over the last 2 years getting to the nitty-gritty of my performance philosophies, these incredibly pristine works of Beethoven are proving to be an absolute gift for me.

Where to from here?

The next three months are super exciting for me, with 3 concerts confirmed in Mid-Feb 2020 for the performance of all 10 Beethoven sonatas within three days…and all in my new gorgeous neighbourhood of Central Otago.

It’s quite possible that I am naïve to the full enormity of this project – but one thing is for sure, sinking my teeth into these works again is a true treat, and the magnitude of the project is just what I am now needing at this point in my life.

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