Fearless Performance by Jeff Nelsen

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November 27, 2014


Give Thanks.

This is my 21st week in a row of writing this newsletter, and your supportive response has changed my life. Thanks.  
You are a very large group of thousands of people.  I am honored and humbled by the size of the auditorium I get to write to each week.  Wow, Thanks. You are also a constructively-focused group of people who are consistently opening my messages of hope and change.  Because of your response to these writings, I cannot let a week go by without writing to you.  Thanks.
This consistent action on my commitment to you has evolved my ability to trust and act on other commitments in my life as well.  I've lost a good amount of weight, and aside from many late Tuesday nights spent writing (heh), I've managed to get 7-8 hours of sleep a night!  Thanks.
This week, in my wonderful adopting country, there is a national celebration called Thanksgiving. Being Canadian born and raised, I like saying, "Happy American Thanksgiving!"  But seriously, thanks America.  You are a wonderful generous caring thoughtful artful home for me and my family.
This week is a good time to sit in some quiet and consider what we have to be thankful for.  After considering it, bask in it.  It's such a wonderful process to take stock in our blessings.  If it's hard to think of many, think a bit longer...and a lot deeper.  Be creative, and force your mind to think of how bad other peoples' lives are right now.  Now consider how many amazing, truly amazing things you have.  Yes, start with having eye-sight.  Hearing.  Two working legs.  A tasty turkey leg in your near future?  ...or tofu burger?
Bask in it.  We have so much to appreciate! So much of the news this week illustrates the pain in the world.  If considered well, seeing this can lighten the emotional load we think we're carrying.  We all have some heavy realities in our past and/or in our imagined futures.  When I get truly present, and remember how bad it is for others right now, I can always find something to appreciate and I end up letting go of some of my worries.
"Pain is inevitable; suffering is optional."
We are surrounded by blessings, but we only see them if we look for them.
Dale and Rhys sharing incredible joy!
Tickling works well too.  
Such a joyful picture taken tonight of 
my mentor and friend Dale Clevenger and my son Rhys.
I had to share. I think they are the same age in this picture.
Two Choices of Approach
I believe there are two ways to go through life.  Sometimes people approach and assess things in a state of being appreciative and other times people are entitled.  
The entitled approach has people thinking they deserve things.  They often expect things, and are equally often disappointed and upset when they see how they're not getting what they want...not getting what they deserve.  This entitled approach is a choice.  I often wonder how many fantastic things are happening in the entitled person's life while they miss noticing them because they are too stuck on looking for what they expect to see.
The appreciative approach has people thinking everything is a bonus.  I was given a real gift one day in 1995 when I was mugged and had a knife held to my throat and was told, "Get ready to die."  The man took my money and ran away, leaving me there crying, with the knowledge that any thought could be my last.  That fateful day gave me deep clarity that every day spent alive is to be appreciated.  Every meal.  Every exchange with a friend, and each potential exchange with a stranger too.
My dad was great at giving enjoyable exchanges to strangers.  No quiet moment in an elevator could go by without him making everyone smile.  We'd be in an elevator on the basement floor of a building and others would walk into the elevator.  Breaking the silence, dad would look at them with a dead-pan face and sincerely ask them, "Going down?"  He'd let them give him a double take, but stay serious just long enough for them to start to give the, "ummm...we're ummm...?" before breaking into a smile that assured them he was just kidding.
We lost my dad to Alzheimer's way too early, just a few years ago.  He taught us a lot about appreciation. He remained an appreciative man to the end, and I believe it was because he chose to see what he had, rather than what he didn't have.  He would say with a smile, "I'm not too concerned with what I'm losing.  I always have 100% of what's left of my mind."
Dad and me
I believe he chose to live that way...in both every good and every scary moment.
Thanks Dad.
Tasks for this week - Give Thanks.
Let's spin today and this week in a contributing way.  No matter how many issues your family has! Sorry but everyone's family has issues!  No big deal. All we can try to work with is the issues we have with our family.

Learn about this, Let Go of it, and Love them and yourself Well anyway!
Here are two ideas to get you started:
1. When someone gives you critique in any way, just say, "Thank you." Skip over telling them why you did what you did, or that you knew what they just told you.  While driving, when someone tells you to turn here, and you were just about to turn there, just smile, and say thanks...give thanks.
...and then watch the moment maybe go somewhere it wouldn't have.  Look for how your sincerely given thanks helped the vibe of the moment.
2. Here is a simple act that can vanish some crazy complicated baggage from your past.  When someone compliments you this week, bite the crap out of your tongue for as long as it takes so that your first and only words are a sincere "Thank you."  :)
This can be trickier than you'd think.  Dooooooo iiiiiiiiiiit anyway!  It's so worth it.  I promise.
November 05, 2014


Learn more than Do

What to do...ohhhh, what to do!?
We often ask our teachers and our selves this question.  What do I play to learn this?  What should I do to learn that?  
What we do matters.  I think why we do matters more.
There might be 50 different etudes or exercises that could help someone learn what they need to learn, but optimal growth only happens if the performer approaches them with a clear idea of what they're wanting to learn.  If the performer approaches the exercise with hopes that the learning will magically happen simply by doing, massive amounts of learning will be missed.  When learning is missed, time is being wasted...  We don't want to do that, do we!?
Solution : Don't just do what you need to learn, learn what you need to do.
Of course, there exists a healthy middle ground where 'doing' and 'learning' get combined well in the practice room.  Unfortunately, practice room time-wasting quickly increases when "doing what you need to learn" results in a repetition-heavy approach to learning.
Repetition is not a bad thing.  Repetition without clear purpose for why you're repeating things can be a very bad thing!  We are surrounded by this message.  Malcolm Gladwell wrote about reaching our human potential in his book Outliers.  He wrote that experts must spend 10,000 hours in order to become one, but the value of deliberate time spent is an important part of the mix.  In his book Talent Code, Daniel Doyle writes about "deep practice" and the scientific connection of the myelin in our body to how we approach our learning.
We lose out in two important ways when we practice with hopes that repetition will get us there.  Repetition will get us there, just not where we want to be.  Here's why:
1.  We don't learn as much as we could have if we practiced with great clarity on our purpose. We don't build the best habits we possible can with each precious minute.
2.  We end up reinforcing our bad habits of playing notes without our absolute best approach and music making.
That's the theory.  Here's a graphic that helps illustrate the worst-case scenario.  Doing more Repetition practicing than Thoughtful Research practicing can take us to what I call...
I've shared the above graphic before.  Ironic that I'm being repetitive with this!  Ha!
Task for this week - Less is More.
Play less notes at a higher level in the practice room.  Focus on what you need to learn, and pick your exercises and repertoire around fundamental growth goals.  Before you begin to play, speak or write down why you're playing.  
Also do yourself a favor and buy this book.  Yup, it's that simple... and watch this video to learn more about learning more.
Maybe make one of the big things you're focusing on your Timing.  Then count deafeningly loudly, in your piece's musical style, for a full bar before you make a sound....every time. Be developing great timing-filled habits out of the gate, before every note.
Learn more and Do less.
Less quantity...more quality.
All the best, (literally...all notes your best)
October 29, 2014


You lost me at "Hello."

It's amazing but not surprising that studies have shown the #1 scariest thing in the world is speaking in public.  Death is #2!

I still get nervous when I speak in public, but nowhere near how nervous I used to get.  I have learned how to catch it when I change myself because of an audience.  The destructive change is a shift into "Good Presenter" mode.  That good presenter wants to be helpful, funny, intelligent, emotionally fulfilling...all good stuff.  Basically he wants to be liked.

When we change who we are to be liked, we make fear an easy choice.  Change can be a good thing, if it's done for good intention.  I change who I am in order to be the best I can be but I do this in the preparation stage.  Once I walk into the performance, I am focused on execution of what I've prepared.  "This time, I'm going to say this!  I'll find out after if they liked it, and what could be better." Do this 50 times before the audience-filled performance, and you're performing your best, and getting feedback for the next time.  

Do not ask or apologize in performance.  Ask opinions afterwards if you want, but in performance, it is execution time.

While performing, your best goal is to let go of ALL thoughts about what others are thinking about you, and simply share your best version of yourself.

The same goes for public speaking.  On this front, I think I've learned a great deal from my students.  I watch them come into their lessons ready to do their "Magic Line Performance".  The MLP method has them speaking before and after their musical performance.  They say what they're going to play, a scholarly piece of information, and some words on their "story".  Their story is loosely defined as visual, dramatic, and/or emotional aspects that they bring to the music that is more than what's written on the page.  They have to aim higher than impressive regurgitation.  They have to make choices about the music that makes it theirs, and do so with the listening experience in mind.  The Audience!  Oh yeah, them!  :)

I would guess that almost student of mine has had this experience with me at some point. They come in and say "hi" and talk about their weekend, and then they go to perform.  When they start speaking in performance, something changes.  Either their voice is higher, eyebrows are lifted, body is more stiff, it's one long sentence, or they add a bunch of question marks. My favorite is, "Hi.  My name is Jeff Nelsen?" 

I understand this well because I do it too.  Your goal in performance is to authentically be who you are, and share that fantastic unique thing that is YOU.  This is all an audience wants from us.  They want excellence too, but that's a given, and we work on that too...behind the scenes.  We perform our best when we are calmly authentic.  We get nervous when we decide, "This time matters more." and shift what we do.  When we "go for it" in performance, we miss more notes.  This happens because we changed our technique in order to go for it...

Public speaking is a fantastic laboratory for studying how we choose to negatively change things when we're better served staying calm, cool, and consistently you...authentic.  

So the second half of the experience many of my students have had goes something like this: (I don't allllways do this to them, but sometimes...) 
If they change their voice or body a lot, after a few sentences I interrupt them by asking, "Hey, what did you do this weekend?" They are initially confused, and slowly say, "Ummm...huh?" I ask again, and they slowly say, "I went to the football game?" 
I ask, "Did you eat anything?"  They say "yeah" and I say, "Ok, say three more sentences about your weekend and then keep that same "comfortable you" tone and feel, and go into your Magic Line Story." 
They smile as they "get it" and start to return to being more themselves as they say, "I had a hot dog?  It was reeeaally good! The band sounded amazing, and the football team was...well, you know.  Today I will perform the first movement of Richard Strauss First Horn Concerto.  There exists a piano and horn part penned in Strauss' own hands, so I see this as viable recital repertoire.  Written in 1883 for his hornist father, this first movement helps prove the axiom that there are only two types of music in the world - Love Songs and Pirate Songs.  You decide."

 Ahhhh....their voice, their story, and they make the music making theirs as well.
If you shoot for impressing someone, or convincing someone with your performance (speaking or playing) you might lose some of what makes you special.  We need YOU out here...all of YOU.
Task for this week - Have them at hello
Take some opportunities this week to speak publicly where you otherwise wouldn't.  Ot watch how you meet and speak to strangers. Listen to your tone, and focus on staying whatever "you" is.  
Bonus points (and things I'm really working on for myself!) :
- Speak without useless modifiers - no "umm", "like", etc...
- Use periods. End sentences, and be comfortable with some silence.
- Make relaxed eye contact
My wife's mother did calligraphy for Oprah, and she says when she met her for the first time, Oprah shook her hand and looked into her eyes for just a second longer than most people would.  It felt a bit more connected...and a bit scary!  Heh...don't stare too long...
Hello well everyone!
October 22, 2014


What to do

There are two options - you can either choose to do something, or to not do something.  
I get much more of what I want when I do things.  Too often, people try to not do things.  "Don't rush! Don't miss!"  I've missed every note I've told myself not to miss.  But when I approach that same note with, "Make this note beautiful" I have a massively higher accuracy rate.
Same note on the page, better results because of a solution-based approach choice.
It's the same when I'm trying to lose weight and get healthy.  I can post on my fridge, "Don't eat wings.  Don't eat pizza." but even if I gloriously succeed at not doing those things, I still haven't done anything to get healthier.  If I post on my fridge door, "Eat salad.  Drink Water", now my solutions are right in front of me.  
DO THIS and get results.  Skip the avoidance step!
Including the problem (the what-not-to-do) in your wording of your intention is just adding an unneeded step!  Once you see something that can help, DO THAT!  When I look back on my path, it's covered with tons of "what-not-to-do" things...but I was always too busy stumbling toward "what to do".
Task for this week - Make it about "What TO do"
Whatever problems you might discover and creatively diagnose this week, focus on defining your solution as quickly and clearly as possible.  Then try to spend less time on being right about the problems, and more time choosing a great way to word your next-steps so when you do them, you will be closer to your solutions.  
Instead of writing, "Don't rush!" on your part, write, "Steady".  When I got comments that I was playing too loudly, instead of writing "10% less!" I would write, "play at 90%". The simpler the instruction, the better the execution.
Spend your time this week making solution-based choices, and acting in line with that thinking.  Obsess about what TO do.
When that works, do it again...
October 15, 2014


Focus Well

After a friend of mine performed two recitals, they said they thought their second performance went better than their first.  When I asked her thoughts on what might have helped her play better the second night, she said, "I think I was more focused."
I was struck with an interesting question.  I asked, "Isn't it more about where we focus, rather than how much we focus?"
I believe we are almost always 100% focused, it's just that sometimes we're choosing to focus on who's in the audience, what we could gain by playing well, or why that fly is buzzing over our head.  If I'm always 100% focused, when I realize I'm making mistakes, my goal is to quickly shift my focus to the best possible constructive aspect of the situation. 
A student asked me today about how I deal with distraction.  I told him that I believe when we're distracted, we're actually just focusing on something.  We only decide we were distracted when we discover, or are told, we weren't focusing on what we "should" have been.  I passionately suggest we give ourselves an emotional break from feeling guilt, or giving ourselves grief, for being "distracted".  Let's just celebrate our ability to focus and move that great focus onto the best thing that moment needs.
I was recently diagnosed with ADHD.  Yes, for most people who hear that, it's not a big surprise!  Ha!  I'm pretty excited to share this information in hopes that some people will not think less of their potential because of this diagnosis.  
In my Fearless Performance lectures, I show a slide outlining places our minds can focus: Process/Technique (Our How), Product/Music (Our What) or Purpose/Story (Our Why).  
My next slide shows a bit more of where my mind often is.
I say, "You do NOT have to have a perfect mind, or even a clear mind all the time!  I am often a mental mess, but I am a highly successful mental mess!  I've learned how to think more about solutions than problems, and trained myself to quickly focus well when I realize I'm not.
I've helped some people who focus on their ADHD aspect in negative ways by sharing my belief that ADHD can actually be "Attention Surplus" rather than "Attention Deficit".  Very often, we are overly focusing on something...and that's not a bad thing!  Not only is it not bad, this focus surplus can be a massive strength...if seen and used as one.
This week's task - Focus Well
Whenever you make a mistake (I define a mistake as missing something you can play), move your focus as quickly and aggressively as possible to a constructive thought or action. 
ANY constructive thought will work at first!  The more you do this, the better you will get at what Malcolm Gladwell calls "Thin Slicing".  In his book, "Blink", he defines Thin Slicing is the ability to almost freeze time...basically take a slice of time, look at the whole slice, understand it, and instantly choose the one best action that best serves that thin slice of time.
Don't just try to focus better.  Having that as your goal makes it too easily reached.  You could focus 1% better and end up reaching your goal.  Keep clarity in your goal setting, and always go for focusing well.  Do this for as long as possible, notice when you're not, and then focus well again.  Repeat...repeat...
Keep it simple:
Focus well. Notice when you're not. Focus well. Repeat.
...oh, and stay well rested.  That helps too!  
Wishing you focus wellness,
October 08, 2014



There is a Magic Line between backstage and onstage.  
Every time you approach and cross this line, you bring with you every choice you've made your whole life.  Thinking about the line in this way can either be a source of increased fear or an inspiration to clear up your choices for next time you cross it.  Either way, putting that Magic Line between backstage and onstage creates clarity for your choices.
Clarity is like gold.
When I'm at the magic line, I'm clear that I'm about to walk into my performance arena. I'm clear that now is the time for things that only constructively serve me in that moment. Different things serve different people, so all you need is clarity on what best supports your upcoming performance. 
Clarity is essential for growth and excellence. Clarity is the result of having the right amount of Knowledge and Intelligence.
Knowledge (Your Library) - What you know
Intelligence (Your Access) - How you know
These two factors (above) combine together to provide you with:
Smarts (Clarity) - Knowing the best one or two things for each moment
For me, Clarity is everything...it flows from listening, analyzing, experiencing, and everything else I balance in life that has me at a moment of action.
I heard a useful quote today:
"If you are thinking about anything other than what you are doing at the present moment, you will not be as fulfilled as you would be if you were concentrating on what you are doing."
This defines Clarity well.  Even if the past or future thought you're having is very positive, when you're out of the present moment, you will be less fulfilled than if you are a monster focuser on what you're doing.  Obviously this is what presence is all about, and I like linking presence and clarity together.  With clarity as our goal, we will either choose very well or quickly and clearly see that we can choose better...and ultimately see what that better choice is.
So with more clarity comes more fulfillment.  Sometimes it's a long-term fulfillment, but trust this...you'll see.
This Week's Goal - CLARITY
Focus on how you can find more clarity in your day.  Seek out how you can make decisions simpler for yourself.  Read a book you've been meaning to read, and fulfill some growth toward more understanding on something, so that some of your choices are simpler for you this week. When thinking about yourself, and how complicated your mental chatter can be, re-read this quote to help you find clarity and presence.
 "What a liberation to realize that the "voice in my head" is not who I am. Who am I then? The one who sees that."

- Eckhart Tolle

Keep seeing clearly...
October 01, 2014


Know Your Best

Here are some potentially new and useful ways of thinking about your best.
I use two different ideas about my "best" so I can constructively measure both what I want, and where I truly am in relation to what I want. Then I make my choices depending on what will close the quality gap between these two types of "best".
Your Two "Bests"
Absolute Best - what you can do.
True Best - what you actually do.
Absolute Best is an ideal.  My constant goal is to shoot for this absolute best. I learn about and protect this ideal goal, and my belief that I can reach it, with all my might. ...and with all my good sleep habits, and eating, and thinking, and and and...  
I believe when I prepare as well as possible, I can do my absolute best.  My absolute best is always what I want to do.  I work with as high quantity and quality of work as I can, so I can bring as much of this 'ideal best' to my preparation and performance.  
Now, the reality is that no one is perfect.  I often could sleep more, and eat better, and choose better thoughts, and read more, practice more, practice better, and and and...  So that leaves me with:
True Best - reality.  Basically I am always doing my True Best, because it is what I actually just did.  Sometimes my True Best gets me hired.  Sometimes my True Best isn't very good, because maybe I worked too hard the night before, or I forgot to stay hydrated or my flight was delayed.  Maybe right before the note I missed, I thought about who was in the audience or what I could win if I played this note impressively.  
I use Absolute Best as the example of the ideal version of what I'm working on.  It's what I could do if I trained perfectly.  It is what I aim for!  But since I can't train perfectly, it still remains my measuring stick against which I compare, as constructively as possible, my True Best.
Whatever the reasons are for each quality gap between my Absolute and True Best, calling what I just did my True Best helps me embrace what I just did.  It's a humbling thought to believe that everyone is always doing their best, but it helps me resist judging anyone (especially myself!) too harshly.  A better way I've found to say this is:
Everyone is always doing their true best.
This is not a cop-out way of lowering your standards.  Don't think, "I did my best, so I'll just keep doing that." Far from it! Keep your eyes constantly on the greatest Absolute Best you can!  Obsess about that.  Refine how good you can imagine it being, and relentlessly work toward and shoot for that.
This week's goal -  Know your best.
Perform, and then look at what you just did, your True Best, and think about what you can do better for next time.  99.9% of the time, nothing "happened" to you.  You just did your True Best with everything that led up to that moment...to that performance.  Accept it, and learn from it.
When you look at your performance you just gave with an accepting truth approach, find a way to objectively say, "Ok, that was my True Best."  ('cause it really was!) Set your goals even more aggressively on a new Absolute Best for next time that includes more research, better practice habits, and even a healthier lifestyle.  Go after your new Absolute Best with EVERYTHING you got this week!  See where your knowing your best takes you.
...and remember, you can't train 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.  You have to rest, eat, and laugh a bit as well.  Live a life around your work, and bring those story-aspects to your performance too.  Manage all aspects of your life that pertain to your performance excellence.  Knowing what that Absolute Best is for you will help guide your choices this week.  Seeing what you do along the way as a constant True Best will help you see where you truly are, and help you make optimal choices for each next step toward your Absolute Best.