Mindset and how to use it to your advantage in your practice

When we practice we engage in teaching ourselves. Teaching that focuses on effort, application of strategies, perseverance and stamina contributes to confidence and to sustained focus on a task. 

Teaching that focuses on ability and talent doesn’t lead the learner to foster self-esteem, and it doesn’t lead to accomplishment, in fact it can lead to feelings of powerlessness and a loss of self-esteem.

Detailed observation such as “The shift worked because I released my finger pressure, took my time, listened acutely throughout and heard the note I was going to in my head first” leads to increased focus and a sense of solidity with the task.

We all need an inner critic. Without our inner critic we wouldn't have thoughts of how to do something better, or how we would like to sound.

Sometimes our inner critic becomes a bully.

Watch out for: 



Rhetorical questions

Non-descriptive judgements

Imposter syndrome

For example, "I sound so bad. I will never be able to do this. How could I allow myself to play like that? Everyone else is better than me and I'm never going to catch up to the standard required. It was so ugly - I must be totally useless player. Everyone thinks I'm good but I know that I"m a fraud."

Let's take this apart.

1--"I sound so bad" - Non-descriptive judgement. 

What precisely didn't go well? What strategies have I learned to teach myself to do this differently?

2--"How could I allow myself to play like that?"  - this is a rhetorical question. The only answer to this question is 'because you are..... (something negative). 'Play like that" is non-descriptive judgement and ineffective feedback. Play like what? What did you do that contributed to that result? How could you do it differently?

3--"Everyone else is better than me." Generalisation. 

Some people do some things well, others do other things well. We all have strengths and weaknesses. What is your strength? What could you look at improving? What strategies can you use to develop your playing? What do you do well and feel good about?

4--"I'm never going to catch up to the standard required" Prediction /  Non-description.

What evidence do you have for that belief? Where did you learn that belief? What is a more useful belief? (I can employ strategies to learn, and I am strong enough to accept failure. Failure is not a reflection of my worth, it is a reflection of my effort and perseverance. These things are influenced by how I feel and what I tell myself.) 

Perhaps you're overwhelmed with the amount of work and feel pressure to be instantly capable. What strategies can you use to break down the work into manageable chunks? 'Standard required' is non-descriptive - what do you need to be able to do? and how are you going to support yourself in achieving it?

5--"It was so ugly" - Non-descriptive feedback.

What precisely sounded ugly. What strategies can you use to sound different to that?

6--"I must be a totally useless player" - Generalisation / Non-description 

7--"Everyone thinks I'm good but I know that I'm a fraud." - Imposter Syndrome. 

Imposter syndrome is a collection of feelings or beliefs that hold you back from fulfilling your potential. Internalized, critical voices or thoughts get translated into a belief that you don’t amount to anything and never will. If people think that you’ve done something well, or if you’ve achieved something, it’s only because you fooled everyone, and it’s only a matter of time before you get found out.

-Do you worry that you’re not as capable or talented as people say you are?

-Do you sometimes avoid a challenging situation because of self-doubt?

-Do you hate making a mistake, being less than fully prepared, or not doing things perfectly?

-Do you feel crushed by even constructive criticism seeing it as evidence of your weakness?

If that feeling of being a fraud is familiar, you are not alone and many extremely successful people feel the same thing.

The internal dialogue above sums up something called 'Mindsets' which Carol Dweck of Indiana University uncovered and has researched for many years. Apparently, all of us fall into one of two types of learning mindset - whether we have a 'fixed' mindset or a 'growth' mindset.

Growth mindsets believe that their ability can change and be altered through effort and the development of strategies - that engaging with a task will increase their intelligence and ability. They see satisfaction as coming from their process of learning and are more likely to notice and act upon opportunities to improve themselves. They don't focus on what the outcome will say about them, but on what they can attain from taking part in the venture.

When faced with failure, people with a growth mindset don't take it as a reflection of their worth. They desire to master challenges, not avoid them. They consider different ways to approach the task and increase their efforts.

Fixed mindsets believe that their ability is fixed and stable. Because of this they tend to have a high desire to prove themselves to others, to be seen as smart and appear highly capable. They want to avoid being judged as unintelligent and often get caught up in competition and comparison.

Learners with a fixed mindset are susceptible to learned helplessness because they frequently view circumstances as being beyond their control, and this may lead them to give up easily. 

Interestingly, praise can also lead to feelings of powerlessness, and be counter-productive, depending on the player. "That was beautiful" can lead to a sense of vagueness about what was beautiful, in what way it was beautiful, and a desire to re-create that beauty without information on how you did it first can lead to distortion of your natural sense of musicianship and creativity. Something like "The way you shaped the phrase into an arch that reflected the harmony, and graded your vibrato and bow contact to be most intense on the dissonance, then released your bow contact and calmed your vibrato as the harmony resolved, sounded beautiful" is useful feedback and gives a sense of goal and solidity around accomplishment of the task.

When defensiveness starts, learning stops.


Having feelings of powerlessness and learned helplessness, 

talking to yourself negatively, 

being scared of making a mistake, 

being scared of looking stupid, 

being easily frustrated,

being scared to take risks, 

focusing on obstacles rather than solutions, 

avoiding challenges


Feelings of empowerment, 

acknowledging the choice you have in what you say to yourself,

there’s a choice in what you believe about yourself,

there’s a choice in what you choose to do next, 

embracing mistakes, 

taking on challenges, 

learning from criticism, 

knowing that failure is acceptable

knowing that failure is not a reflection of your potential or worth 

valuing effort not results 

having confidence to dream of the future


You can change the way you approach things by daring to think different thoughts:

I’m not good at this     --------What am I missing?

I’m really good at this   -------I’m on the right track

I give up       ------------------- I’ll use some of the strategies I’ve learned

This is too hard--------------- This may take some time and effort

I can’t make this any better--   I can always improve so I’ll keep trying

I just can’t do it  -----------------  I’m going to train myself in this

I made a mistake, I’m ashamed  ----Mistakes help me learn better

I’ll never be that good  -------------I’m going to work out how they do that 

That was awful, I’m rubbish --- I’m brave to feel this AND choose to learn

SO in your practice room... think about: 

1-how you are teaching yourself.. 

2-what thoughts you are influenced by... 

3-what strategies you are using... 

4-whether your critic is on your side, or wanting you to stop trying, i.e. can you trust them?... 

5-what you are doing well that you can feel good about...

Changing from a fixed mindset to a growth mindset doesn’t happen overnight, it’s a gradual evolution.. a bit like exercising. The more you do it, the stronger, quicker and efficient you become, and with that growing ability comes increased confidence.

Happy practising!! ☺

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