I could write a book about self-sabotage… if ever I overcame those insidious barriers to self-activation and singing success myself. Oh the irony! It can be difficult recognising when we’re (often subconsciously) getting in our own way. So firstly, I’ll list some common manifestations, then, bust out some mighty solutions.
There’s a psychological phenomenon called Experiential Avoidance. That is, those things we most need to do, we avoid. For me, this means avoiding; practice, writing, rehearsing, admin – even a pathological fear of answering the phone. The more sacred and important something is, the more we can self-sabotage.
As a vocal coach, I hear some pretty whack excuses for not practising, not trying and not showing up. If you’re not accountable to a teacher, band or coach, you might be unaware of how and what you’re avoiding with your voice. So, here are some ways we self-sabotage.
By making supposedly legitimate but elaborate excuses for not singing or working on our music (not enough time, no privacy, not feeling inspired, don’t know how, not fully understanding technical tools and how to apply them, too tired); compulsive busyness, making yourself overly responsible for the welfare of others (instead of honouring your own process); FOMO, depression and anxiety (which are compounded by the consequent inaction); ‘sponging’ (being adversely effected by destabilising circumstances or other people’s dysfunctional behaviour); over-caring about what other people/critics think; procrastination; over-eating; sore throats and psychological voice loss (especially for high profile gigs and on the day of an assessment/lesson); backwards priorities (believing music isn’t a valid use of time); ego-based rationalisation of faults and difficulties as peculiar to us and part of our specific vocal shtick (e.g. claiming that breaks in the voice are desirable stylistic preferences instead of dysfunctional); ego-based beliefs that we’ll ‘never learn because we’re incapable of singing well’ or, ‘don’t need instruction because we’re better than that’; shooting the messenger by not receiving advice or assistance from a teacher/mentor because of a supposed personality clash or disappointment in the way instruction is delivered; not reflecting honestly on our own vocal production and/or writing (not cultivating objective awareness, focusing on other people instead of ourselves – criticising or over-helping); co-dependency – subordinating our needs to others; hypersensitivity / taking offence (not being able to receive compliments or constructive feedback); feeling overwhelmed/deficient (a sense that there are pieces of the puzzle missing within ourselves (e.g. adequate knowledge of theory, not playing an instrument well enough), isolation, shyness and introversion (social phobias); bad NLP (negative self talk or perception); substance abuse and behavioural addictions; bitchiness; competitiveness; setting goals and standards too high or too low; living in the past (regretting missed opportunities / bad decisions); anxiety over the future (especially the pressure of trying to match a previous musical success); risk-aversion in a bid to not repeat past mistakes; forcing the sound in order to sound good ‘Now!’; a perceived need for quick fixes, non-singing self-identification; defining yourself as something other than singer (e.g. guitarist, songwriter, your ‘real job’); not appreciating or valuing your gifts; making things too difficult, mutually exclusive rationalisation (“I can’t sing and play at the same time”); unrealistic deadlines; perfectionism; being dependent on other’s approval, praise, acceptance, applause, validation; blaming and complaining about extenuating circumstances (i.e. not a big enough market, gatekeepers, corruption in the industry, charlatanism); online distractions; busting up the band just before releasing a CD / major opportunity; over-intellectualising / questioning / doubting your own and others’ legitimacy, process or worth; feeling threatened or intimidated by peers, ‘idols’ or teachers; fear of failure or success; not trying; making unfair comparisons (with how you used to sound, with other people); not starting; not finishing and forgetting why you sing.
In response to all of that BS (and I’m sure you too have got an entire book’s worth of your own idiosyncratic self-sabotage), here are some solutions that will get you back up on the mic, where you rightfully belong.