About Worrying

The topic of worry affects everyone, especially college students as they begin to make important and often first decisions about their lives and careers. For music majors (and every other college student, I imagine) beginnings of semesters are very charged times in terms of worrying because of the stress associated with beginning new courses, planning recitals and concerts, and organizing daily practice schedules, among many other things. As the semester continues, those worries transition into more worries about performing those recitals and concerts, and of course the usual end of semester juries and exams. Although I have heard some teachers and performers say that worry can be a positive element if it motivates you or your students to study or practice, I tend to think that rationale only creates a negative atmosphere. This type of negative stimulus can ultimately undermine the positive effects of hard work, creating the dreaded “head games” that students and professionals alike experience from time to time.  To help combat this cycle of worry, I recommend reading Take Charge: A Guide to Feeling Good, by W.W. (Wally) Johnston, Ed. D.  This little book is full of excellent, logical advice which can help your horn playing and lots of other things!  The following quotes are from the chapter “On Worry,” and I think students, teachers, and professionals can find ways to apply this positive philosophy.

Some people act as if worrying about something keeps it from happening. The opposite is more likely. The self-fulfilling prophecy and the placebo effect are evidence that what we expect, believe (faith?), and visualize tend to come true. The experts in tennis, golf, and the olympic athletes know all about visualization.

Sometimes we see worry as our civic duty or a parental responsibility. “Of course I worry about a nuclear holocaust, I’m a conscientious citizen.”  One mother told me, “Of course I worry about my daughter, I love her very much!” That seems to me like fear is masquerading as caring and love. It’s better to visualize what you want to move toward than to visualize what you fear and try to escape from it. Worrying is a powerful, self-defeating process. Besides, it doesn’t feel good.

So, while worrying about that audition or performance might motivate you to practice in the short term, in the long run it probably isn’t the healthiest approach.  Worrying is one of those activities which can occupy an incredible amount of our time, but in the end leave us with absolutely nothing to show for it.  The goal, then, is to stay positive, and visualize positive outcomes.  Be as prepared as possible, and let go of things which are out of your control, like other people, unforeseen situations, etc.  I’ll close with a few more choice quotations on worry from Take Charge.

Worry is a form of fear, and all forms of fear produce fatigue. A man who has learned not to feel fear will find the fatigue of daily life enormously diminished. [Bertrand Russell]

Worry affects the circulation, the heart, the glands, the whole nervous system, and profoundly affects the health.                [Charles Mayo, MD.]

Fear is an acid which is pumped into one’s atmosphere. It causes mental, moral and spiritual asphyxiation, and sometimes death; death to energy and growth. [Horace Fletcher]

Worrying is a fear-filled creative process which includes thinking about, talking about and visualizing loss, defeat, failure, trauma and chaos. It is a dangerous activity because it sets up scripts, programs and expectations which may be the beginning of a self-fulfilling prophecy. A bummer. [Wally Johnston]

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