We do it all day long. We talk ourselves in and out of all kinds of situations.
You may set up a meeting, prepare very well for it, have a good relationship with the other person, and then as you’re walking in the door, that sneaky, underhanded, two-faced critic between the ears jumps in with all sorts of reasons why the meeting won’t work.
If you listen, you’re sunk.
If you see what’s going on, you silence the critic, reaffirm your intention, and go in and make the best possible job you can of it.
That’s the significance of self talk.
Many years ago I first became aware of this in a band rehearsal room.
Joe Lowney, the bandleader, had given us charts to bring home and practice.
They were simple, clever, arrangements by Jimmy Lally, who was renowned for transposing big-band International hit numbers into manageable orchestrations for dance bands.
As the drummer, my job was key
to keeping a steady tempo, on which the band could rely.
Joe taught us that there were three levels of performance; solitary practising, group rehearsal, and playing in public.
As a fifteen year-old learner, I relied on the leader’s direction in all phases. And I got it.
Joe’s first statement to me was, “Learn how to practise well, not just so you get it right, but so that you can’t get it wrong.”
And that was one of the most valuable pieces of coaching I ever had, and not just for music charts.
It was apparent too in the performance of some of the other players. There were a couple of talented musicians present, but either through lack of personal practice, or some other reason, didn’t always live up to their abilities.
And you could see it when we prepared to play. They were either overconfident, with a sort of brash insouciance, or were patently dreading the upcoming number.
Either way, in spite of their aptitude, they undermined their performance with all kinds of reasons why they weren’t going to play well.
Though their expectations were low, because of their talent and aptitude, they often managed to play well in spite of themselves.
Joe Lowney was more than a bandleader. He was a leader in every sense. He told all of us that practice was our strength. He taught us that practice is what gives you familiarity and respect for what you’re doing and it helps bring the best of you to the performance.
He was empathetic to the talented ones who tended to skip practice, and spoke to them in a way that they learned to value what talent they had, and to make the most of it.
He was adamant that how we felt about ourselves, about the music, and the audience, was vital to how we approached a performance, private or public.
‘You can be a first rate musician’ he told us, ‘but if you let distraction, fears of what could go wrong, of making a mistake, come into your mind as you step up on the bandstand, you can talk yourself into disaster.’
Joe was psychologically decades ahead of his time. He taught us to respect what we were doing, respect our fellow-musicians, and to have respect for an audience by bringing the very best of who we were and what we could do. “Then”, he said “you’ll have a healthy respect for what you’re at, and for yourself, and you’ll perform to your best.”
His talk before a rehearsal, public or private, was about how well we’d done before, the rhythm and the melody of the piece, how the last audience loved it, so that by the time we started to play we were up to our eyes in expectant anticipation. Such was the power of this, that even when we fluffed a note, missed a beat, we just played on, so that the mistake was lost in the overall quality of the performance.
Joe had talked to us in the realm of possibility and the belief, and the courage, that we could do it.
That belief transferred to us.
And there too, is the power and the significance of self-talk.
When you have thoughts running through your head that are undermining your intentions, you do need to be aware of them and discriminate between a negative thought and a concrete problem.
When you’re walking out onto the pitch, and your notice a mighty crack in your hurl, you change your Hurley and then get in the game.
When you’re walking out onto the pitch, with a good hurley, plenty of practice behind you, and sound experience, and the thought occurs to you that your opposite number is very accomplished and will probably clean you out, you need to change your thought, get into the game, and you’re there with a good chance.
As Henry Ford is reputed to have said, “whether you tell yourself you can, are you can’t, you’re right.”
HAVE A GREAT DAY AND DO WELL.