For those who engage in physically demanding sports, like mountain climbing or a long-distance running, the phrase "mental toughness" is thrown around quite a bit. Even outside the realm of sports, the word has caught on with business gurus, personal trainers, and, yes, even musicians.
Playing the guitar and climbing a mountain obviously take some sort of physical action, but that's not all there is to it. The psychological attribute of mental toughness can be the extra ingredient that takes your playing to new heights.
So what exactly is mental toughness? To be quite honest, it's a rather controversial term. The loose definition of mental toughness refers to any type of positive attribute that can help a person overcome a difficult situation. Some don't see music as one of these difficult situations, but not everything has to be an epic, physical challenge.
The fact is, mental toughness is beneficial to your music career. Some are naturally gifted with such a trait, while others have to work a little harder at it. If you're on the fence about your own mental toughness, the following five signs should help figure out if you've got it going on.
1. Complete control of focus
Having control over focus is a sure sign of a tough mentality. As a musician, there are times when you really need to channel your focus, and there are times when you need to shut it off. For example, during a performance, an intense focus is needed, but when you get off the stage during an intermission, that focus should be turned off.
The mentally weak don't have any power over this quality. As a result, they're left with a fleeting focus that's hard to control.
Not only can you benefit more from relaxing your focus in music, but focus can help with situations outside of music, too. Music may be your life, but it's not immune to the myriad of personal-life distractions. There may be unpaid bills, dirty dishes, conflict with family, or other obligations that all attempt to derail your focus. The mentally tough can deal with these distractions while still remaining focused on their music career.
2. Quick recovery from failure
Staying positive and in control of your mind, even in the face of failure, is another sure sign of mental toughness. You may have gotten lost on the way to a gig, played a song horribly, or gotten sick on the road. The life of a musician is full of these issues, but the mentally tough will not let them stand in the way of their success.
Failure is painful and demoralizing. It leaves some deep emotional wounds and can impact us on a subconscious level. If the psyche is damaged from failure, then that will eventually interfere with aspects of your music. That's why it's necessary to stay focused and in control of your mind even in the face of devastating failure.
Do you believe in your musical skills and abilities? Can you easily navigate through times of challenge and conflict? Are your social skills well formed?
If you answered yes to all of these questions, then it's likely you're a confident person. People who define themselves as self-confident believe they can succeed despite any obstacles they may face. These mentally tough individuals don't back down from competition. In fact, they actively try to put themselves in situations like that. They take charge, make decisions, and have large amounts of courage, even if fear is involved. These people crave the limelight – not for the fame and fortune, but for the challenge.
Anyone who wants to truly succeed in music needs to have this quality of mental toughness. Perhaps you have a fear of large crowds or are intimidated by a better musician. That's a natural feeling. If you want to overcome those feelings of anxiety, you need to develop a confidence-building strategy. You need to throw yourself in uncomfortable situations until that confidence develops. Once you can confidently say to the world, "I'm a great musician," you're on your way to mental toughness.
4. Embracing challenge
Embracing challenge means you thrive and actively seek out environments that present difficult opportunities. While these challenges are far from easy, they ultimately help you learn and grow. Most people tend to hide from such events for fear of failure or out of sheer laziness. People who embrace them, however, have a certain ability to think outside of the box.
Challenge-seekers enjoy giving their creativity a workout. They love to explore the lesser known parts of innovation. Some may think these people are crazy for willingly seeking out a risk. But think about risk taking for a second. When you or anyone else takes a risk, either in music or life, do you ever seek out a negative outcome? Of course not. You take risks with a hope of a positive outcome.
This is the essence of a challenge-seeker: they are purely focused on the positive. They realize that challenges and uncertainty are concepts that lead to change. They're natural parts of life that shouldn't be avoided, but instead embraced.
Constant change is needed to improve as a musician. That won't happen without embracing the challenge. It's a difficult habit to get into, though, which is why it helps make you mentally tough.
Sure, having confidence and the ability to embrace challenge are great qualities, but if you don't commit to anything, they're useless. The deepest part of you has to know that music will be your career. If you're truly serious, you'll realize that this isn't just a stepping stone to something better down the road. Once you have that mindset in place, it's time to commit.
Musicians are often unsuccessful in their mission because they fear commitment to their deepest values. They may think they want to spend months away from family, grunge it out in nightclubs, and practice their craft every day, but when it comes down to it, some just aren't that committed.
These same people believe success is an act of evolution. Unfortunately, you can't inherit competence. True success is the result of hard work, focus, and commitment to finding the end result. Success doesn't happen overnight, and this frustrates the mentally weak.
A fully committed, mentally tough individual always finds an innovative solution to their challenges. That's because commitment comes from passion. Those who are truly passionate will stop at nothing to pursue their goal.
If you think you're lacking commitment or any of these other qualities, it's never too late to work on your mental toughness. It's similar to a muscle in that repeated practice will make it stronger. Combining a tough mind with musical skill will only benefit you in the quest for a successful music career.
Anthony Cerullo is a nomadic freelance writer and keyboard player. In his spare time, he can be found reading, hiking mountains, and lying in hammocks for extended periods of time.