Fighting Your Way To The Top: 5 Ways to Manage Inner Conflicts

We live in a complicated, interesting world today where many in the classical music world are wringing their hands because of perceived lack of opportunities for making a successful career, while others (myself included) view our world today as one of tremendous possibility and opportunity.

This is one of the reasons that I am so passionate about teaching musicians how to look at the world as one of opportunity.  One of my objectives is to help my students adopt a positive attitude towards their lives and their careers since I believe very strongly that happiness and optimism breed success and not vice-versa!
Optimism is also essential to the mindset of the music entrepreneur of the 21st Century.

In my class, we start by examining the different attitudes that one can bring to a music career. This attitude is formed by past experiences and perceptions and it translates into energy:

•    stressful energy for things that make you feel hopeless, fearful, angry, or conflicted or

•    motivating energy that makes you feel that you can manage your life, inspires you to keep moving forward, be of service and find opportunity.

At one end of the spectrum is Flow, the optimal energy state where you are doing something that you are good at, that stretches and inspires you because you know what you want to achieve and are motivated to keep going because it represents the “sweet spot” where your skill level meets the challenge at hand. Not only does Flow make you feel truly joyful but it also means that you are in control of the experience and that you have the ability to cultivate and master the skill through training and discipline.

Not surprisingly, my students find this to be very inspiring and we implement this learning by creating an image of what you are like at Flow and using that to inspire you to positive thinking and acting.

What about the other end of the spectrum?

It sounds something like this:

“Why did she win that competition?  I’m just as good.”

“It’s not fair.  I should have gotten that job.”

“I need to be the best.  Otherwise, I’m a failure.”

My students related to these thoughts both personally and in observing them in other people.

Let’s take a closer look at what underlies these thoughts.

Just as flow is an elevated state of energy, conflict is an attitude that we bring to the world, based on our experience and our perceptions of reality.  Many musicians struggle with these thoughts, particularly in a world where the traditional opportunities for advancement seem to be drying up.  If that is your perception, no wonder you would feel stressed, angry and fearful when someone else got the job that you and so many others were vying for. 

And these thoughts often mask a fear of not being good enough.  Some people think that the fear and anger motivate them into action.  They practice harder thinking that this is the ticket to success.  Yet while the fear may motivate results in the short run, it takes it toll in the long run because of the stress that is involved.  And in the short run, it can also cripple one’s performance. 

Here’s why:

Imagine that you are about to go on stage to give a performance. If you are thinking that you have to be better than everyone else (and if you are not, you are a failure), how does that make you feel?

Not very good, right?  Scared, anxious, angry.  There might be a pit in your stomach.  Your hands go clammy.  Your legs start to shake.  You feel as if you are going to die.

And if you have these thoughts and feelings, what do you think your performance will be like?

Probably not very good.  Nervous. Tense.  Technically off.  Musically flat.

So even with all that practicing, you are most likely not going to give the kind of performance that you are capable of giving. No wonder you feel angry! Furthermore, this attitude is highly disempowering because you are reacting to the world, rather than feeling in charge.

We all feel this way from time to time. Yet with some work, it is possible to get out of the state and start to feel more in charge. The trick is to focus on what you are good at and build up your confidence from the inside by focusing on your strengths and knowing what you are like at Flow.  I am most impressed with my students and their commitment to overcoming the challenges that a lot of musicians face by looking for ways to use their strengths and adopt the Flow mindset in their lives and in their careers.

Here are some suggestions on what to do when you find yourself feeling angry, conflicted and resentful of others.

1.    Notice when you feel this way and what situations trigger your feelings of conflict, anger and competition.  Track those thoughts and feelings over the course of a week.  Write them down so you know exactly what the thought is and when it arises.

2.    At the same time, start to build that inner confidence so you do not have to compare yourself to others.
What are your strengths?  Discover your strengths and look for ways to play to those strengths.

What are you like at Flow?   Think about an experience when you were truly joyful and at your best. Choose a few words that describe yourself in this state and create an affirmation to remind you of what you are like at Flow.

3.    The next time your stressful, negative, competitive and conflict thought crops up, substitute your Flow words. Pay attention to how you feel when you are focusing on yourself at Flow, rather than comparing yourself to others.

4.    Analyze what you can change that can help you to get over your fears of inadequacy:  your skill level, your experience, or any gaps between what you are like at Flow and what you are like when you feel the need to compare yourself. Then, commit to taking actions that can help you overcome your skill and experience gaps.

5.    To overcome your view of the world is that there are limited opportunities, look for ways to use your strengths and  to create your own opportunities. That is at the heart of being a music entrepreneur.

By following these steps, you can begin to take charge of yourself and feel that you have the power to change your thinking, your actions and your life.  Congratulations for committing to this change!

These suggestions work when one’s feelings of conflict and anger arise from time to time.  However, for those who consistently believe that the world is out to get them and that they have to fight their way in order to achieve success, deeper therapeutic work would be necessary to understand the underlying causes and overcome them.