One of the things that comes up again and again for the singers I work with is the balance between confidence and arrogance. How can you be self-confident without veering into arrogance?
The answer for me is simple, once you understand that arrogance is a form of armour against vulnerability.
If you compare Barrack Obama to Donald Trump, which would you say is self-confident and which arrogant? Now think about which fears vulnerability more and can handle others’ judgment? Arrogance is a way of boosting yourself for fear that you are really less than you hope you are or want to be. Often it is paired with pushing others down so you can rise up.
It definitely does not come from a true sense of inner self-confidence.
Arrogance is just one of the many forms of emotional armour performers use to defend themselves from the vulnerability they can feel when performing.
Central to most singers’ and performers’ nerves is a worry about looking stupid and feeling foolish. No matter how much we might love being on stage, we want to do well and we really don’t want to let ourselves or anyone else down. This can make us feel vulnerable and leads to the temptation to use armour.
What forms of armour do we use:
1. Perfectionism – if I get it perfect then there is no risk
2. Procrastination – it’s easier to mess up next week, or next week I will be better
3. Avoidance – if you don’t do it you can’t fail
4. Keeping small (physically and/or vocally) – if I’m small and quiet maybe they won’t notice I’m no good
5. Arrogance – if I tell everyone I’m brilliant, maybe they’ll believe it and maybe I’ll believe it too
6. Judgment – if I notice others’ failings I won’t feel so bad about my own
There are others, and they overlap and often feed into each other, especially perfectionism and procrastination. All are designed to help us feel safer and less vulnerable. What they actually do is make things worse for us and disconnect us from our audience.
The negative effects of most of these armours are clear, but people argue with me about perfectionism! It is tempting to see making things perfect as a solution. I find time and time again that all it does is create tension, invite more self-criticism with a sense of failure most of the time, and it gets in the way of true emotional commitment to the piece and connection with the audience. You will see a lot about this in my blogs.
If armour is bad, how do we avoid putting it on? This is about looking at what is making us feel vulnerable and dealing with it differently. Three simple things you can do right now to change this are:
1. Listen to the way you are talking to yourself, are you ‘keeping it real’ or keeping yourself worried and more likely to want to put armour on?
2. Change your perspective on how the audience views you. How they judge you is not how you judge yourself.
3. Let go. When we feel vulnerable our instinct can be to take control, and this is when we put armour on. If instead you let go, as counterintuitive as it seems, three things happen:
a. You are more likely to enjoy what you are doing;
b. You are less likely to overthink and self-sabotage; and
c. You have space to think about what you are performing and to connect with the audience
If you can do this, you will have no need to be arrogant or to use any of these forms of armour.
For everyone letting go means something slightly different. Helping them unpick why they talk to themselves the way they do, what they think about the audience and what stops them letting go is the most rewarding part of the work I do.
If you would like to understand more about what is going on for you as a performer, I have 2 spaces on my Courageous Performer Programme coming up at the end of this month. To see if it might be right for you, drop me an email or book a free Backstage Review where we can talk about what you would like to achieve and what might be getting in your way.
If you would like to know the best place to start with unpicking this for yourself, try my Lifting the SMOG workbook which takes an in depth look at the language we use with ourselves and the effect it has on what we achieve. You will be surprised at the changes you can make by just swapping a few words.