Mastering Your Mindset Part 1: Excuses

We all know the definition of insanity––doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different outcome, right?

In many areas of life, results are pretty clear-cut: if you don’t pay your cell phone bill, there’s no more service; if you don’t water your plants, they die. These situations are not complicated, and the answers are easy to find.

However, performances and auditions are more complicated. Often, we leave these experiences without a clue as to why we didn’t do better. We then crawl home and go right back to practicing the same things, in the same way.We rationalize this with thoughts like:

  • “I’m not good at auditions.”
  • “My stage fright always gets to me.”
  • “This failure was a one-time fluke.”
  • “I just need to practice harder.”
  • “I was too musical; the judges were looking for a perfect ‘robot.’”
  • “It was political—I knew they were going to choose her.”

Excuses like these (and there are thousands like them) are barriers—they keep you from getting curious, from getting creative, and from figuring out what you really need to do to get better. Doing the detective work to figure out how to improve is really hard. Sitting around and complaining is really easy. Sitting around and practicing in the same old way, without doing the detective work, is somewhere in between.

In my experience, musicians who make excuses are not being honest with themselves, and they’re not doing the detective work needed to improve. Excuses are a sign that you’re not being curious. They are a sign that you’re avoiding doing the hard work that actually makes a difference. They’re a huge warning sign that you might be spinning your wheels.

“Excuses are the nails used to build the house of failure.” ~unknown

Sitting here at home, at my computer, I can’t know what your particular excuses are, but I can practically guarantee that you’ve got some. Almost every musician I have ever met had them at some point. One of the biggest steps you can make towards developing a strong, effective artistic attitude is to kick the habit of making excuses. And you start this by listening to yourself.

After your next performance or audition, I’d like you to notice your thoughts and words. If you were great, then pat yourself on the back! However, if things don’t go well or you don’t achieve your desired result, check yourself for excuses like:

  • “I didn’t have enough time to warm up.”
  • “They don’t care about musicality.”
  • “They just picked their favorite.”
  • “The audition was run poorly.”
  • “I guess I don’t know the right ‘people in high places.’”
  • “I guess no one is good enough for them.”
  • “The room was too cold.”

After a bad experience, it’s best to keep your mouth shut. However, if you must say something, here are some phrases you could substitute:

  • “I’m really glad I put the effort in to take that audition/play that piece.”
  • “It wasn’t easy, and I’m proud of myself for doing that.”
  • “I figured out one more piece of the puzzle today.”
  • “I wasn’t nearly as nervous as I was in my last performance.”
  • “It gave me some good things to think about for next time.”

Or at the very least:

  • “Well, that was interesting.”
  • “There’s always next time.”

It takes a lot of work to develop the right mental attitude for artistic success. Eliminating excuses is one of the most important, most impactful things you can do to get yourself on the right track. The great thing is that you can work on this anytime you want, without having to go near a practice room. The sooner you start, the better off you’ll be.

The Takeaway: Excuses are a crutch, and they are a huge barrier to improvement and learning. Eliminating them as soon as you can will supercharge the rest of your artistic efforts.

OK…now go practice!