“That’s a stupid idea”
“You’ll never get this right”
“You’re just not good at this, give it up”
“Everyone likes what she’s doing better…”
We all experience critical voices in our head that tell us we aren’t good enough. But what do we do when those voices get so loud they drown out reason and objectivity? While these critical voices are universal to the human experience, they can be especially present for kids and teenagers in typically competitive fields such as sports and the arts.
The performing arts fields create especially fertile ground for these types of negative thoughts to fester. They may greatly impair a young performer’s ability to be successful in their craft and most of all to receive maximum benefit from their theatre education.
I label these voices “The Council of Apes” because they are much like apes, unruly and boisterous, irrational and primal. It’s important to recognize that these voices are not necessarily always our own. Quite often they are projections of people in our lives who we may feel have been critical of us such as teachers, friends, extended family, siblings or even our parents.
The key practice here is to name the voices as they come forward and if we are able to identify the origins of the voices, this is just an added bonus. Once we move our “apes” to the conscious part of our brains much of their power becomes diminished.
So how do we do this? This is a great practice you can do with your kids!
Step One: Begin to notice when anxiety comes up for you during class /rehearsal or even in the aftermath? What are the sensations that accompany them in your body?
Step Two: Identify what statements the voices are making and when they are happening. Write them down if you can, so you don’t forget!
Step Three: Ask yourself how these voices could be affecting your ability to be the best at your craft.
Step Four: Reframe these statements in the positive/affirmative. Example:
Thought: “You’re just not good at this, give it up”
New Positive Reframed Affirmation: “I am not so good at this now but if I work hard I know I will get better.”
No two critical voices are alike and it is important to distinguish between them. There is another very common voice that we tend to overlook and write off as a representation of positive self-esteem. This voice might sound something like this:
“ You don’t need to practice this, you know it already,
“ This dance is so stupid, you are way too skilled of a dancer to be doing such easy stuff”
“ You are clearly so much better than everyone else, you should really be doing something else”
This voice is deceptive in that it comes in the guise of building ourselves up. This is really just the other side of the same coin and creates limitations by telling us we have little to learn and can work less. This can also cause disconnect between ourselves and our peers and teachers because we begin to see ourselves as better and separate.
Avoid interpreting these thoughts as signs of superior self-confidence when truthfully they may be more about arrogance and vanity. Humility will actually get you much further in your craft then hubris (thinking you have nothing to learn)
As a parent you have a remarkable opportunity to support your child in a process that can serve you both. Learn to recognize when something is holding your child back and help them identify those pestering ape voices even as you begin to identify your own.
And be conscious of the influence that your own words have on your kids. The subtle or not so subtle statements you make have a bigger impact on them then you realize.