Does mindfulness help preparation?

Mindfulness is becoming increasingly popular, and I use it on a daily basis. Recently I used it in a workshop to help people prepare for a performance. One of the participants challenged me on this as they felt that it distracted them from properly preparing for their performance. This made me think…..


Hello, I’m Hattie Voelcker from Find Your True Voice and I just wanted to take a few moments today to talk to you about how useful mindfulness can be in preparing for a performance.

Now I’m a great proponent of mindfulness and all its many benefits, but I was challenged recently because I introduced it into a workshop, and guided people through a mindfulness exercise just before they performed. One of the pieces of feedback I got from someone was that they felt that it interfered with their proper preparation for their performance and this made me think about it again….and I am still in favour of mindfulness as part of preparation!

I wanted just to say what mindfulness can do, and why it can do this. Often when performers are about to go on, their conscious mind goes into overdrive. The conscious mind is that part of your mind that you are aware of. It is when you can hear your thoughts, and you are aware of your thoughts, the thoughts that you can draw your awareness to. Prior to a performance, very often you will hear your conscious mind issuing instructions like ‘Don’t forget to do this,’ ‘Do remember to do that,’ ‘Think about your breathing,’ ‘Think about raising your soft palate,’ or about whatever your particular issue is at the time. It will also be planting doubts, by saying ‘Don’t forget’ you are planting the possibility that you might forget your words, the same with ‘I’m really worried that this is going to happen,’ or ‘Make sure you don’t mess that up.’ There will be judgments or thoughts about judgments going on as well, ‘I’m not sure they’re going to like what I’m wearing,’ ‘I’m not sure they’re going to like my voice,’ ‘They sang better than me,’ ‘They sang worse that me.’ All of this going on in your in your mind is an awful lot of noise. It is there for a good purpose because your conscious mind is doing this in order to help you be better, but the reality is that all of this noise doesn’t help you be better. Telling yourself to remember the words doesn’t make it any more likely that you will remember the words. Going over the words again and again at this stage is unlikely to help you remember, it’s more likely to re-enforce the possibility that you are not going to remember the words, make you doubt yourself, and clutter your mind.

Mindfulness is the practice of drawing your attention, drawing your mind to certain aspects. Dr Dan Siegel would say that there are 7 aspects or senses you can draw it to. There are the 5 senses, taste touch smell sight and hearing, and then in addition to that there is our ability to perceive our internal workings, our bodies. We have neurons throughout our bodies, in fact we have the same amount of neurons in our gut as a cat’s brain – so when we have a gut feeling, we really can have a gut feeling. So you can draw your attention to how your guts are feeling, you can draw your attention to how your joints are, what’s going on in your muscles. You can draw your attention to your internal workings. The seventh aspect we can draw our attention to is our thoughts too. We can take a step back from our thoughts and become aware of them, and we are the only creatures who can do that, who have evolved a part of the brain that can do that, that can take a look at our own thoughts. So mindfulness is the practice of drawing our attention to all of those aspects.

This can help us in 2 ways. Firstly, if we draw our conscious mind’s attention to certain things, we are distracting it – a little bit like distracting a naughty child ‘Ooh, look over there’ (Stop playing with that!) A number of times I’ve fed my children things they have said they didn’t want to eat by talking to them about something completely different! Your conscious mind will have a harder time worrrying about the future and what is going to happen, or what they have just done and what they have just messed up if it’s attention is being drawn to these seven aspects. Even if its attention is being drawn to the fact that it is worrying, strangely you can thing ‘I am worrying about this’ and that can have a calming effect because it gives you perspective and distance from the emotion. The other way it can help you is that mindfulness is a really good way of connecting us with the outside world. Dan Siegel would say that the mind is not just corporial, not just in our skull and in our body, or throughout our body as with the nervous system, but the mind is also relational. It is about how we relate and the messages we send out and receive from the outside world, and if we are drawing our attention to the outside world, we have a much greater ability to connect with it. Therefore we have a greater ability to connect with our audience if we are being mindful of, and connecting with, the outside world.

When we get nervous or worried, or we feel that there is something challenging coming up, we have a tendency to shut down our senses, to withdraw and when our conscious mind is whirring, you can think when people are consciously thinking hard, they go into themselves and it is hard to access them. So whilst you are worrying about yourself and worrying about what is going on, and thinking about what you are going to do or what you have done, you are not available for your audience to engage with.

Therefore mindfulness can help you distract your conscious mind, and it can help you engage with the outside world in a more effective way which helps you when performing.


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