From childhood on, there have been moments in my life–and I think you have experienced this in your life too—when I’ve had to perform and no one could help me—not my mother, not my wife, not a friend.
The responsibility for what would happen next was completely my own—standing alone on a stage in an auditorium looking into the 12,000 eyes of the 6,000 people who had paid money to hear what I had to say, for instance. Or standing at the starting line of an 800 meter race with seven highly trained athletes that in a couple of minutes I would be trying hard to beat as they would be trying just as hard to beat me.
It’s very lonely knowing that whether or not you will succeed depends solely on your own skills, your own personality and character, your own preparation, and your own strengths. Then no one can help you, no one can write the novel for you, no one can paint the portrait for you today, or dance in your place, or perform your role in tonight’s play. You’re on your own, my friend. Will you be at the height of your talent today or won’t you? Will you have it? Will your work be good? Will you be satisfied?
At crucial moments–beginnings, endings, changes of direction–everything you are, everything you know and hope for, everything that drives you, and all the capabilities you’ve worked so hard to develop and refine to the highest possible level are brought to bear on that always-ultimate artist’s goal–to produce a work of which you will be proud.
I’m a great believer in using psycho-techniques to help performance and wrote a whole book about them that an internet poll named “best motivational book evert written”–Fighting to Win: Samurai Techniques for Your Work and Life.
I’d like to recommend two psycho-techniques here that I find useful: Think Aloud Strategies and Brief Performance Cues. They will be helpful whatever your art, whatever your occupation.
Use Think Aloud Strategies to Inspire Yourself
When you write, you’re asking yourself, “Does it sound right?” “Does it flow?” “Is it a good quality?” You’re also “self-instructing.” Self-instruction is talking to yourself to guide actions and telling yourself what strategies you should use. A writer may self-instruct to use more imagery in the story, and self-monitor to count the number of images or tell herself, “My mind is starting to wander. I should focus my attention better.”
“Think aloud” strategies involve verbalizing “private speech,” the kind of speech you don’t usually use in public. People don’t generally talk aloud to themselves, and when they do, their speech is often incoherent. But sometimes thinking aloud to yourself clarifies your understanding and activates problem-solving.
A think-aloud strategy often entails reciting out loud the chatter that’s going on in your head. Describing to yourself how to proceed and execute a task should improve performance. For example, you might say aloud, “There are too many long sentences: mix long and short sentences.” Self-verbalizations such as self-praise statements—“I’m really doing well”–verbalizing the strategies you’re using—“I’m keeping track of time”–and actions you’re taking—“I’m stopping to review the paragraph before moving on”– are extremely helpful kinds of thinking aloud.
Use Brief Performance Cues
Performance cues are important reminders that you repeat silently or say aloud. Focus on a few simple reminders–summaries of the main things you’re trying to accomplish—that you should bear in mind: “I want my writing style to be simpler.” The cue you’ll repeat to yourself, “Simplicity!” Completing a project brings the artist elation. A project cannot be a work of art until it is finished. Not starting, but finishing works, is the artist’s credo. The cue is “Finish!’ “Finish!” Above all else, if you are a writer your writing should always be clear. The writer’s cue is “Clarity.”
Boil your whole performance down to a few statements, words, phrases, or images:
“Relaxed and confident”
“Good work today”
“Organized and sharp.”
“I’m in the groove”
“Grit and guts!”
The cues will excite your spirit. They will improve your performance. Begin by writing out performance cues you will use when you’re working.
Those psycho-techniques along with the insights you can find in Fighting To Win should help you make the most of your talent.
© 2020 David J. Rogers
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