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  • Writer's pictureKensley Behel

Paralysis By Analysis: How to Stop the Negative Cycle That Hinders Musicians.

Updated: Jul 23, 2023

Whether we like it or not, the person we most often converse with is ourselves. Rather than repeating that famous and rather helpful Tik Tok mantra, "I don't suck. I'm just new at everything. I'm not a horrible person, I'm just learning," we tend to repeatedly beat ourselves up with repeated negative themes that one author has called, "Chatter."

"Chatter consists of the cyclical negative thoughts and emotions that turn our singular capacity for introspection into a curse rather than a blesing. It puts our performance, decision making, relationships, happiness, and health in jeopardy. We think about that screwup at work or misunderstanding with a loved one and end up flooded by how bad we feel. Then we think about it again. And again. We introspect hoping to tap into our inner coach but find our inner critic instead."
~Ethan Kross, 2022

In his book entitled, Chatter, Kross details the development of working memory and the importance of our mentors in developing our "inner voice." He offers examples of how parents shape mantras that we tell ourselves such as, "Don't give up," after experiencing disappointment. The repetition of these sayings becomes ingrained in our own inner dialogue.

Over time, and through our own lived experiences, cultures, religions, and mentors, our inner dialogue develops to a greater degree – a degree so great that it actually begins to form our identity.

How Chatter Affects Us

"Chatter in the form of repetitive anxious thought is a marvelous saboteur when it comes to focused tasks. Countless studies reveal its debilitating effects. It leads students to perform worse on tests and produces stage fright and a tendency to catastrophize among artistic perfomers."
~Ethan Kross, 2022

How Chatter Affects Our Community

Research tells us that repeatedly sharing our negative inner voice with willing and sympathetic listeners actually pushes people away. Even from childhood, those who are more prone to rumination have led to "painful results such as being socially excluded, the target of gossip," and other forms of rejection. (p.32)

The cycle of rumination also leads to more aggression in professional settings.

How Do We Stop The Chatter?

One of the greatest hindrances to a musician's inner voice is their drive toward perfection. The pain-staking attention to detail can, and in many cases often do, lead to paralysis by analysis.

If you find yourself repeatedly telling yourself mantras like:

  • I'm going to fail

  • I'm never going to get a job

  • I'm not good enough

  • I suck at performing

  • I'm worthless

Please know that you are not alone.

These repeated negative thoughts that begin with the word 'I' is a key indicator that we are suffering from chatter. The repeated use of the first person (I) in these scenarios limits our scope and increases the force of negative emotions.

So how do we stop it?

One powerful and effective tool that Ethan Kross recommends is "zooming out." By exchanging the first person for the second or third person, we can help bypass our stress response. This can look like, "Sam, you are prepared and you are going to do well." or "Becky, you are spiraling."

Whether you are simply naming your chatter for what it is or whether you use your first name when giving encouragement as you would for a friend, this simple tool is very effective at stopping those repeated negative thoughts. The difference between continuing to spiral or zooming out can have a profound effect on not only our mental health but our physical health as well!

Do you struggle with negative thoughts? Send me an email through this contact form to sign up for the Musicians' Health Lab Fundamentals Course to learn the tools to stop that negative cycle!

Article by: Kensley Behel

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