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Fear: An Enemy of Excellence


Fear: An Enemy of Excellence

Fear: An Enemy of Excellence…  At the beginning of 2012, I wrote a column in which I challenged worship bassists to strive for excellence.  Rather than focus on negativity, I suggested that moving toward personal excellence would inject positivity into our own playing.  In addition, a “ripple effect” would be created that those around us could sense.

The response has been fantastic!  I have truly loved hearing from bass musicians who have taken on the charge to be excellent.  Bassists have told me amazing stories about the positive impact that was made in their personal playing, worship, and group interaction.  If you haven’t taken on the challenge to be excellent, there is no time like the present to start!

Those that strive to be excellent are not without enemies; however, and it is time to talk about a prominent opponent of excellence:  fear.

As I received messages talking about excellence, I was also contacted by a number of musicians who were plagued by fear and anxiety when playing.  One worship leader told me about the nausea-inducing stage fright that they felt, even after years of being on stage.  A worship bassist asked me what to do when, despite their best efforts, worry dominated their mind when playing.  It was clear that by declaring the intention to be excellent, many were being attacked by fear.  The fight is on, so let’s take time to talk about this enemy of excellence and to discover ways to fight back!

Before jumping in too far, let’s cover some basics.  First, fear and anxiety love targets that have been isolated.  If you are finding that anxiety is a problem you are facing, you need support.  Prayer with your worship team, working with your private instructor, and talking with your fellow bassists are immediate things you can do to remove yourself from isolation.  Fear is more common than you may think and opening up to a trusted source is a critical, proactive step to take.  Second, being unprepared or under-prepared to play is an invitation for anxiety.  Worrying about messing up is hard to dismiss when you have no idea what you are doing.  Make sure that you practice effectively and learn your music well!

When you’ve gathered support and prepared thoroughly, it is time to define FEAR appropriately

False Evidence Appearing Real

I first read this acronym explanation in a book by Tony Robbins, although I believe that the exact origin is unknown.  Regardless, this is what fear really is!  Fearful self-talk often leads us to believe things that are simply not true.  When fear says something to you, it is important to test the truth of the statement.  More often than not, you can easily refute the claims before you accept them as “real”!

Here are some examples:

FEAR says… The truth is…
You’re going to mess up. There is no evidence of this – you have practiced and prepared!
You are going to freeze up when you play. You are a bass musician and you have done this a million times before.  You’ve never frozen before and chances are, you won’t now.
Everyone will notice if you don’t play every note correctly. In 4/4 time, at 100 beats per minute, each eighth note flies by a person’s ear at .3 seconds per note.   No one in the congregation is going to jump up and point out the one note that wasn’t perfect.
You aren’t good enough to be playing for worship. You are good enough – people believe in you and you work hard to better yourself every day.

This list could go on for days, but here’s the important point:  FEAR is never correct!

If FEAR is “False Evidence Appearing Real”, let’s implant some Real Evidence! To do this, take time to listen to your weekly music away from your bass and visualize yourself playing the songs correctly.  “See” your hand on the bass, “feel” the position shifts, and “hear” your bass playing without error.  Do this consistently to build the habit of using your own brain to bolster your confidence.  If you can’t visualize a lick or pattern, it is often a sign that you need to practice the passage on your bass until you are truly comfortable with the music.  Hit the woodshed and then return to the visualization.

It would be nice if fear and anxiety obeyed polite rules of conflict, but once you’ve started to fight back, the enemy tends to resort to sneak attacks.  These attacks are panic and worry that creep up for no apparent reason, at the most inconvenient times.  When this happens, you can remain in control and ward off the ambush.

For example, one of the most common symptoms of anxiety is shortness of breath.  If you start to experience this, blow out your breath in a steady stream until you feel like there is no air left in your lungs.  When you are doing this, imagine pushing every molecule of air out of your lungs you possibly can. The result?  When you have exhausted your outward breath, your body will instinctively take a very deep inward breath.  The deep breath is just what you need to slow your system down and regain control.  Do this a couple of times, visualize yourself being successful at playing, and keep going!

Now, I would be lying to you if I said that everything would be perfect in your playing life.  The truth is that wrong notes sound, our minds may get lost for a second, and weird stuff does happen.  To the advanced fear-killer, we train for such events!  Here’s a simple exercise:  take a recording of a song from your weekly set and move to a random point in the track.  Hit “play” and catch up to the music as fast as you can.  Allow your ears to guide you, along with the knowledge that you have gained from preparation.  Knowing that you can work your way out of a jam, before a real problem occurs, does wonders for your confidence!

Being excellent is not about being perfect – no one is perfect.  Excellence is about striving to be your very best and working to bring positive change to yourself and those around you.  Fear would like nothing more than to short-circuit these goals. With dedication, hard work, and good support, you can make sure excellence wins!

I would love to hear about your experiences with fear and, more importantly, how you have overcome this problem!  Send me a message at the Bass Musician Magazine Community or catch me on Twitter (@sgregorybass).

Until next time, I hope that your bass playing is blessed and that you can bless others through your bass playing!

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