We all have those days when we feel down or negative. The crazy thing is, one of best ways to feel better is to do something nice for yourself or someone else. If you scatter some sunshine, you can’t help but get some on yourself!!
Advice and Announcements for VSU Students
After a great performance, athletes have described a feeling of being “in the zone.” In this state, they feel invincible, as if the game slowed down, the crowd noise fell silent and they achieved an incredible focus on their mission. What is this Superman-like state and how can players enter it when they most need it?
Like the feeling of being moved down a river by the current, this positive groove has been described as a “flow.” In fact, Mihaly Csíkszentmihályi, psychology professor at Claremont Graduate University in California, coined the term in his 1990 book, “Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience” (Harper & Row, 1990).
From his years of research, Csíkszentmihályi developed an entire theory around the concept and applied it not only to sports, but also to work life, education, music and spirituality.
Csíkszentmihályi identified nine components of the state of flow. The more of these you can achieve, the stronger your feeling of total control will be.
1. Challenge-skills balance is achieved when you have confidence that your skills can meet the challenge in front of you.
2. Action-awareness merging is the state of being completely absorbed in an activity, with tunnel vision that shuts out everything else.
5. Concentration on the task at hand, with laser-beam focus, is essential.
6. Sense of control is heightened when you feel that your actions can affect the outcome of the game.
7. Loss of self-consciousness occurs when you are not constantly aware of your success.
8. Transformation of time takes place when you lose track of time due to your total focus on the moment.
Flow doesn’t only happen to athletes. In any activity, when you’re completely focused, incredibly productive and have lost track of time, you may be in the flow. You may not be shooting for three, but you can still say you are “in the zone.”
This article originally appeared on livescience.com and was written by Dan Peterson
This post was originally posted by The Bulletproof Musician
We are typically led to believe that being “nervous” is a bad thing. Indeed, most of the advice I’ve ever heard has been aimed at reducing anxiety. Over the years, I tried everything I could to get rid of the unpleasant feelings associated with performance anxiety. I tried eating bananas, drinking chamomile tea, imagining the audience in their underwear, sleep deprivation, practicing more, taking various supplements, and even trying to convince myself that it didn’t matter how I played. None of this, of course, took the anxiety away or did much to help me perform any better.
From my work with sport psychologist Dr. Don Greene when I was a graduate student at Juilliard and my own doctoral training in performance psychology, I’ve come to understand that anxiety itself is not the problem. The problem is that most of us have never learned how to use adrenaline to our advantage. By telling ourselves and our students to “just relax,” we are actually doing each other a disservice by implicitly confirming that the anxiety we feel is bad and to be feared. I soon learned to welcome the rush of adrenaline and to use that energy to power my performances, and to perform with more freedom, conviction, and confidence than I ever imagined possible.
The big question, of course, is how do you transform anxiety from a liability to an advantage? Before we talk about this, we first need to understand some basics about what happens to our mind under stress.
Left Brain vs. Right Brain
Our brains consist can be thought of as being comprised of two basic regions – the left hemisphere and the right hemisphere. Admittedly, it is an oversimplification of the immense complexity of our brain to imply that the left and right hemispheres are completely independent of one another, but this is a very effective model when it comes to understanding optimal mental states for performance.
Left brain thinking is associated with words, numbers, logic, analysis, criticism, rules, details, planning, and judgment. Conversely, right brain thinking is associated with sounds, images, patterns, kinesthetic or sensory input, emotions, the “big picture,” free association, and creativity.
Based on this information, which mode of thinking seems most conducive to effective practicing? Did you say left brain? Correct! Now, which seems most conducive to dynamic, inspired, and artistic performances? Right brain, exactly! Unfortunately, we often do the opposite. In the practice room, we have a tendency to practice somewhat mindlessly, merely repeating passages over and over until they sound better, making corrections, but doing so almost unconsciously. However, as soon as we walk on stage, we tend to get flooded by left brain over-analytical thinking, criticism, excessive planning, and so on, which only serves to lead to a pre-occupation with technical details and an inability to play as freely and automatically as we are capable. Are you familiar with the phrase “paralysis by analysis?” This is exactly what happens when we know that our every move and sound is under close scrutiny by others. The opposite of this paralyzed state is often referred to as “flow” or “the zone,” where everything just seems to “click” into place and our playing is easy, free, and effortless.
How do we make the shift from left brain thinking to right brain thinking and get into “the zone?” One very effective tool is called Centering.
Centering is what sport psychologists call a pre-performance routine. It was designed in the 1970′s by the renowned sport psychologist Dr. Robert Nideffer, and adapted for performing artists by Olympic sport psychologist Dr. Don Greene. Centering is a highly effective means of (a) channeling your nerves productively and (b) directing your focus even in extreme situations. Once mastered, it is very quick and highly effective, and will ensure that you begin each performance with a bang (in a good way)!
There are seven steps, each specifically designed to move you progressively closer to right brain quiet, focus, and poise, and take you further away from left brain fears, doubts, and self-criticism.
Step 1: Pick Your Focal Point
Select a fixed point in the distance, somewhere that feels comfortable. This point could be on your stand, the ground in front of you, or on the back row of the hall, but wherever it is, ensure that your focal point is below eye level. A focal point helps to minimize distractions and avoid the temptation to engage in left-brain thinking.
Step 2: Form Your Clear Intention
A clear intention is in essence, a specific goal statement. What do you intend to do when you step out on stage? How exactly do you intend to sound? What, precisely, do you intend to communicate to the audience?
Use assertive, declarative language, such as “I am going to perform brilliantly, with passion and clear dynamic contrast,” as opposed to “I hope to play well.”
Do not use the word “don’t”. Doing so will only put the negative picture in your head and generate fears and doubt. For instance, when you say to yourself “Don’t miss the high note”, what’s the first image that pops into your mind? Missing the high note, right? What image pops into your mind when you tell yourself “Nail the high note?” Learn to focus on what you want, not on what you don’t want.
Step 3: Breathe Mindfully
One of the most powerful techniques for reversing the stress response involves learning how to breathe diaphragmatically. When stressed, our bodies have a tendency to revert to shallow, rapid, chest breathing. Doing so keeps us in fight or flight mode. Diaphragmatic breathing is the most biomechanically efficient way to breathe, and furthermore, is conducive to activating what’s called the parasympathetic nervous system response which is our body’s antidote for the fight-or-flight state.
Step 4: Scan and Release Excess Tension
One of the most detrimental consequences of performance stress is muscle tension. As our thinking becomes more negative, our muscles tend to get tighter and less facile. And not just any muscles, but often the ones that we most need control over!
Scan your muscles from head to toe as you continue to breathe slowly and deeply, one muscle group at a time, releasing tension on the exhale. There is a short video clip on YouTube which illustrates an exercise that tests your ability to truly relax your muscles on command.
If you develop a more acute awareness of muscle tension even in the practice room, and are able to control the degree of tension you experience in your playing, you will be able to retain much of this ability during a performance and will feel much more in control.
Step 5: Find Your Center
Are you familiar with the martial arts concept of ki or chi? In Eastern philosophy, chi is described as being one’s “life force” or energy. There is a specific location in our body where the energy tends to congregate, which is essentially our center of gravity. If you have ever observed the movements of a great martial arts master or even some athletes or dancers, you will notice a presence, grace, and balance about them regardless of their size or physical dimensions. Not only is the feeling of being centered a very calming and reassuring one, but the mere act of searching for you center will quiet your left brain activity.
Step 6: Repeat Your Process Cue
There is a tendency when stressed to hyperfocus on minute details. This may be highly desirable in the practice room, but can be paralyzing on-stage. The solution is to focus on a right-brain process cue, in essence, a reminder of what it sounds, feels, or looks like to produce the exact sounds you want.
There are two possible ways to do this. One, you could brainstorm and experiment with words that cue up the sound/feeling/images of producing the beautiful sound, clean articulation, or solid intonation that you wish to produce. Examples of such words are smooth bowing, light fingers, even shifts, fluid, powerful, calm, or easy. It’s not the word that is important, but the resultant mental sound/feeling/image of performing exactly the way you want to that is key.
Thus, a second way to do Step 6 is to avoid using words altogether and merely hear, feel, or see yourself performing exactly as you wish.
Step 7: Direct Your Energy
By the time you have gotten to this step, you will have made the shift into a more quiet and focused mental state conducive to performing your best. You will have taken the edge off of your nerves, and in this last step you will channel the remaining energy that remains into a dynamic and inspired performance. This is how you use the energy instead of trying to get rid of it.
Do a quick internal search for all of the energy that you feel in your body, and feel it gathering at your center. I often imagined my center and energy being somewhat like those plasma lamps that are sold at stores like The Sharper Image (Google “plasma lamp” if you don’t know what I’m referring to). Now, direct that energy upwards, through your torso and neck, into your head, and blast it out through your eyes or forehead like a laser beam at the focal point you identified in Step 1. Think of this beam as a conduit for your music and the energy that will convey your clear intention to the audience.
This may sound a little hokey to some, but this energy is real. Have you ever met someone incredibly intense, who perhaps invades your personal space a bit, and looks at you so intensely that you feel uncomfortable and almost feel that they can see into your head and read your thoughts? That’s the same sort of energy I am talking about. Instead of trying to get rid of the energy adrenaline provides by relaxing or taking beta blockers, you can learn to use it, channel it into your performance, and take your playing to a whole new level!
When you first try to Center, it may take several minutes to go through all of the steps. If you practice this for 10-15 minutes per day, however, and stick with it, you will begin to notice a difference within a week or two and find that you can center in 5-10 seconds. Some notice a difference within days. The key, like anything else, is consistency and persistence.
Many, if not all, of these elements can be shared with even the very youngest students, whether they get nervous before performances or not. Not as a means to reduce anxiety, but as a way to improve focus and clarity of musical intentions. Many of Centering’s aspects can even be tremendously helpful in practice sessions, to ensure that one remains focused on the task at hand (instead of reinforcing bad habits via mindless repetition).
With a little time and practice, I’m certain that Centering will change your approach to performing and practicing just as it did for me and the many others who have learned this process.
As the saying goes, “You can’t stop the waves, but you can learn to surf.”
p.s. If you’d like more help learning how to “surf”, check out Beyond Practicing - an online performance enhancement course that will provide more in-depth training on Centering and six other key skills that will help you become the kind of player who thrives when the pressure is on.
As the immigration reforms debate is going on, many international students struggle to plan their life. As a graduate international student, now an international “alien” defined by the U.S. Government, I am now working in a company that is sponsoring my H1B visa. What does it mean? It means I can work for this company for up to 6 years (renewal every 3 years) and maybe… just maybe they ‘ll agree to sponsor my H1B visa green card. Again, what does it mean?
Let me tell you a story, the life and the emotional roller coaster of an international student, maybe you will feel worse for your friend who is an international student, or maybe you can decide to help and do something or at least, try not to unintentionally picking on the same old wound that we, international students, all try to cover up with pretty American made products like bandages, shoes, chocolate molten cakes, etc.
12 years ago I came to this wonderful country on a J1 visa. What is a J1 visa? Great question. It is an “exchange visitor visa.” Which means, you come to this country as an exchange student based on an exchange program between 2 countries (your country and the other country). The exchange program typically works this way, the schools between 2 countries work together, they send students between the schools back and forth during the countries for cultural experiences. No, this is not a mail order bride program, though, if you really think about it, it might be a good cover up for such a program.
Most of the time, the exchange program is embedded in the school fee you pay, but if you are from a third world country trying to do an “exchange” program to the US, the fee is extremely crazy. My family didn’t have that much money, but for my future, my mother sold everything we had to send me to the US and she sent me to this strange and foreign country when I was 14. 14, alone in a place half way around the world from my home, living in strangers’ home and knowing noone, my first year in the US was much better than it sounded.
I landed in Chicago O’Hare airport, and was met by my “host parents” assigned by this exchange program. Did I mention, I could not find the place in any maps (this was before Google became popular) before I left my country? But, oh well, ”it’s the US, no one would do anything bad,” I thought. So, why not get on the plane, meet someone you have never met and live in a town you could not find on any map? My ”host parents” met me with an upside down name board with my full legal name carefully written. That was the first time in my entire life I have seen my name written in full in such a mega scale, it was a bit unsettling.
I lived with my host parents for 1 year in a smallest town, I met wonderful people, made many mistakes and gained 20 pounds within the first 2 months snacking on onion-sour cream potato chips dipped in sour cream. I drove my first tractor, mowed my first lawn, ate my first McDonald’s hamburger and fries, and many more. I lived on $500 for that entire year. I got lost to class the first day. All the girls and boys looked the same to me with their blonde hair and blue eyes and pale skin. Oh, also, I broke my first bone ice skating and had my first dance.
I fell asleep crying for the first 3 months, and my mother spent at least $200 every month paying for phone cards. Every conversation was filled with silent cries and tears. Until one day, my uncle picked up the phone, and he said to me “if you keep crying, it does not help anyone. Stop crying and be strong.” That was the end of my weeping and mourning period.
1 year goes by, and the fear started to creep. I wanted to go home. However, a J1 visa required the student to not come back to the US for 2 years after the exchange year (why? I have no idea). In addition, the year of exchange in the US would not count toward your education back in your home country. In another word, I would have to retake my freshman year in high school. I refused to do that, but I missed my family. My mother kept promising me, “you will come home…. SOON….,” and I kept that word “Soon” in my heart for the next 7 years until I decided to go home all by myself.
After the J1, you will never be able to get another J1. It’s a once in a life time visa type. Thus, in order for me to stay in the US, I have to change my visa status from J1 to F1 (independent international student) and have to change school ( by law, you cannot attend the same school with different visa type….why? Again, I have no idea… maybe non-citizen aliens like us might get too attached. So the journey began to change my visa status from a J1-F1 and to look for another stranger to take me in to live with them with no conditions….. and yet, God is on my side again.
According to the immigration rules, I could not change my visa unless I left the US and either go home or go to a third party country and reapply for the visa. Which meant, there was a big chance my visa would get rejected and I would never be able to enter the US. So, after my mother found a friend of a friend of a friend who knew a friend who lived close to a friend in Denver to take me in as their host daughter and helped me with my visa, I finally got my visa status changed from J1-F1.
Then college time came, not many schools offer scholarships for international students, not to mention, international students never get in-state tuition benefit, so you always pay the highest cost. I found a school with full scholarships and everything I wanted in a state where -20F is a normal thing (not Alaska, thank God), and consider this, I am from a country where 100F is a normal thing.
When you attend a college or university as an international student, you cannot work for more than 20 hours a week, and you cannot work off campus unless it’s an approved CPT (CURRICULAR PRACTICAL TRAINING VS OPTIONAL PRACTICAL TRAINING). You can work part time as long as you are in school with your CPT which will have to follow your curriculum in school (your major), approved by the school department, signed by your international student advisor and approved by the USCIS (US Citizenship and Immigration Services).
In your years in school, you are also allowed 1 full year of full time CPT, and then after graduation, you are also allowed 1 full year of full time OPT (OPTIONAL PRACTICAL TRAINING), the time frame is longer for you if you are in the STEM program (science fields). The purpose of this OPT is to find an employer who loves you so much that he/she will sponsor your H1B visa (I don’t even want to go over the requirement for the H1B visa approval) and eventually sponsor your green card.
This sounds great, but, consider this, one of the condition for the green card H1B visa is that the employer has to prove that there is no or very limited candidates in the US that can do the job and you can… out of all the people in the US, you are THE ONE! I believe, this condition comes out of the fear of international students who have to study extremely hard to be top of their schools with the highest grades and the most extra curricular activities would take away American jobs. This topic calls for another long and complicated blog!
Long story short, your international student friend who you see everyday or once in a while worries about all these letters everyday, J, H, O, C, T, P, U, S, C, I, S, 1, B, D, E, P, O, R, T, E, D…. and many more… so don’t mind them when they freak out in front of the alphabet place mat. When they go to bed at night, they have to worry if tomorrow they will be back and continue another day or they will have to pack and start a new life in another country or go back home. Every meal is like the last meal, and every party is the best party. Every relationship is extremely precious, and every mistake is a grave chance of being deported. When they plan their future, they have to have plan A: staying in the US and getting green card or plan B: staying in the US for 3-6 years and getting married, or plan C: leave it all and just restart. And the easiest choice always is: go back to school and get a PHD.
So be nice to your international student friend, feed them the best American dish (90% of the time, they already tried all the food you considered “exotic” yet never touched a hot dog before), invite them over for Easter Sunday, Thanksgiving, etc. because those holidays are the most terrifyingly lonely time for them. Talk to your friends who might know people who are executives (only the executives can be so unrealistic enough to make the decision of going through the pain of hiring 1 non-citizen individual). Pack their clothes and give them a giant party when they can’t find a job, not because they are not qualified, but because no one even want to try to look at their resume due to the inherit invisible flash on their forehead saying : sponsorship. They will have to go home.