In my freewheeling exploration of ideas to help me learn and teach better, I enjoy the columns at The Bulletproof Musician by Noa Kageyama, PhD. He has useful tips on learning, teaching, coaching, practicing, performing, and more, based on his exploration of psychological research studies.
In the latest column “What’s the Most (and Least) Helpful Thing to text a Friend Before Their Audition?” he explores the best way to show support — in a text message — to a person about to do something stressful. The conclusions were that mundane, boring texts work better than those showing positive support, concluding that, “… the boring texts managed to a) subtly distract the participant from the pressure, and b) remind the participant that they have a support network around them, while c) providing an implicit “hey, no matter what happens, life will go on, and we can grab a chalupa after this is over” type of reassurance, without actually saying those words.”
I can attest to my own counterintuitive negative response to messages of support. Me, “I’m driving to Timbuktu next week.” Them, “Wow! Well have a safe trip.” That seems nice, right? So why might some have the subconscious reaction, “Well of course I’ll have a safe trip. Why wouldn’t I? Do you know something I don’t?” Personally, I would rather have a boring, mundane response like, “Give them my regards!” That’s just me.
But what really struck me in this article was a method the psychological researchers used to create stress in their subjects by demanding that they, “count backwards from 2372 by 13 as fast as possible.” The absurdity of that task as something that truly mattered in life amused me, and it brought to mind the way that we can bind themselves up with needless, counterproductive stress in our dance.
“If I don’t intuit what is in my partner’s mind and anticipate where and exactly how they want me to go, at the instant of their slightest movement, then I will lose their respect and the respect of everyone watching.” “I must keep this person entertained and excited like they never have been before, otherwise they and everyone watching will get bored and never want to dance with me again.” Do those seem like absurd and unreal demands on ourselves? How far removed are they from our actual mental dialogs?
Suppose we take a meta-step, where our observing self offers our acting self positive support? “You’ve got this!” “You’ll do fine.” “This is your chance to shine!” I kind of feel that it will be like the supportive texts in the study, applying an unintended pressure to perform.
As a more productive alternative, consider making mundane observations. “The floor is crowded tonight.” “If I were writing a story, what would this music inspire?” “What is my partner’s level of energy? Does it feel like good energy or nervous, tense energy?” “What might be a fun move or theme to play with during this dance?”
Counterintuitively, positive messages of support might actually create unwanted pressure or misdirected intentions. Explore how casual, mundane, even “so what?” types of observations might serve yourself or others better.