On Friday NPR premiered a new show called Invisibilia, “…a series about the invisible forces that shape human behavior.” This is the kind of show I LOVE to listen to; I’m always fascinated by what it is that drives the human mind and behavior.
Friday’s show (which was rebroadcast this morning) was called Fearless and was divided into two parts. I listened to the part called “Disappearing Fear,” discussing ways in which we can reduce our fears. A man named Jason Comely described his fear of getting rejected after his wife left him. His fear prevented him from talking to people and he became very lonely. Then he began thinking about the Spetsnaz, a Russian military unit with an intense training program.
“‘You know, I heard of one situation where they were… locked in… a windowless room, with a very angry dog….They’d only be armed with a spade, and only one person is going to get out — the dog or the Spetsnaz.’ And that gave him an idea. Maybe he could somehow use the rigorous approach of the Spetsnaz against his fear.”
Jason began to seek out rejections every day. He would ask people for favors, and smile at everyone he passed by. He turned his fear around by welcoming the thing he feared the most. Every time he got a rejection, he would say, “Thank you! I got my rejection.”
The funny thing is, Jason often found it difficult to get his daily rejections. Even when asking for discounts at stores or asking for rides from people going in the opposite direction, Jason found that people were more receptive than rejecting.
This story got me thinking about our fear of playing the piano in front of others. Performance Anxiety is a debilitating problem for us musicians. But what is the fear? It’s a given that we will probably make some mistakes, and I think that we fear that our mistakes will make us seem stupid, ridiculous and unstudied. Perhaps deep down we believe that we can’t really play, and when we perform we’re afraid that our incompetency will be revealed to the world.
What would it look like if we tried to institute Jason’s rejection therapy into our everyday life? We would seek out opportunities to have people laugh at and criticize us. And each time they would, we’d say, thank you! I got my ridicule for the day!
But do we really have to go through that torture? Jason says that people don’t judge us nearly as harshly as we judge ourselves. He says that our fears stem not from what people actually think about us, but what we think they are thinking.
“We are always, always, always telling stories to ourselves, about the situation that we’re in and about other people. And that story becomes a reality for us. And that’s the problem.”
Jason counsels us to go out there and do things like smiling at everyone, dressing much differently than usual, asking strangers for favors, and asking friends to listen to us play. We should try to elicit looks of ridicule from others so that we can practice disregarding our fear.
What stories do you tell yourself about playing the piano in front of others? Think about those stories and ask if they are really true, or if they are just the stories you habitually tell yourself. I’m sure you would not judge other piano students nearly as harshly as you judge yourself.
Maybe this year we can practice just give ourselves a break. Maybe we can say to ourselves, I’m enough. I’m great exactly as I am today. I’m not going to play flawlessly, but I’m playing well enough and I’m enjoying myself.
Thanks to my student Maggie for telling me about Invisibilia!
With love, music and taking a break from fear, Gaili