A true story from several years ago revealed much to me about self-judgement.
Not only how intense it can be, but the ‘filter’ unconsciously turns on when perceiving something from me versus someone else.
I had just finished a live performance that was broadcast on the radio, and as I often do, went straight to the hotel to listen to webcast online.
Headphones on. Game face on. As is my nature (and many other musicians can relate,) I was laser focused on everything about my playing.
- The sound – no good, too ‘electric,’ the attack isn’t right. How do I fix it?
- The feel, too stiff, then sometimes too loose. Not happening.
- The ideas are stale, something about the whole thing just isn’t right… and I’m not sure what to do about it.
What kind of microphone and gear could resolve this? Is it my hands, my playing style? I’ve heard live recordings of people sounding a thousand percent better that I can clearly reference in my mind. I can’t stand it, and need a solution ASAP.
Mixed into this self-judgment party are grasping at moments that do sound OK, that feel good for a moment… something, anything to justify my musical existence, and to even have this gig in the first place.
Of course, any nano-second of this process can spiral into the universe of comparison. It really is its own universe:
“THIS I’m listening to is why I don’t have a better career. Here I was thinking I was playing pretty well, deserving more than I have, and this invalidates all of it. Then again, so-and-so doesn’t sound better and they have ten times the work I do….”
It’s a mess. I’m grateful that while I can absolutely recall and feel this, that it is more of a memory than my day-to-day reality.
Where it gets interesting.
The webcast finishes, and it’s back to regular radio – DJ playing selections, speaking and so on.
A new tune starts. It’s a studio recording, and right away my mind is comparing.
- THIS sounds so much clearer, fuller. That’s more the kind of sound I want.
- This guy has a much better feel.
- Pretty much everything about it is better.
Why can’t I do this? What’s wrong with me.
About 30 seconds in, as the rest of the ensemble enters, I realize how familiar the tune sounds.
It’s a track from Phil Woods’ “new celebration”
I’m the bass player on this recording.
Guess what happened next?
The MOMENT I realized it was me, I started to notice all the little details about the playing that I don’t like.
The filter turned on. It went from just listening with more openness, to judging every aspect.
This may sound a little out there to some, but I submit that this filter actually makes me perceive the music differently – the playing literally starts to sound worse, that perception is reality and this is a major shift in perception.
It’s a lesson that has lasted with me for some time now.
I actually do appreciate my ability to focus in and see what can be improved, that helps – but that is discernment.
Discernment is useful. Judging, hating , triggering the cascade of stories, justifications, is not useful.
It’s common, but it’s not helpful.
There are ways to work through this.
This experience gave me an experiential understanding that there are filters and programs that literally shape the perception of the music. That the image and concepts I hold about myself, my playing, where it fits in the world, how I judge it and compare it to others, all massively distort any direct perception.
On another level, I believe this actually applies to all aspects of reality, but forgetting that rabbit hole for a moment…
There are many techniques I’ve used over the years to address this, but found the awareness itself to be extremely potent.
Slowing down and observing those moments before you listen to yourself, watch yourself on video, read something you have read, or perhaps before you are about to speak, act, perform.
- Noticing what your body does. Where tension starts to hold, how the focus starts to refine. What kind of emotional and physical state you shift into, and the thoughts that accompany it.
- Compare that to how you listen to someone you love, a favorite record of yours.
- Compare that to how you listen to someone you feel jealousy towards, or you feel doesn’t deserve what they get, or any negativity towards.
I began to see and feel a literal shift in myself when listening to, watching, or reading anything of my own.
For me, it all starts with awareness. From then there are many options what we choose to do with it.
Can you relate to this? Have you had similar experiences? Does it translate to your line of work or another area of life?
Does this give you something practical to explore around the topic?
We’re all in this together 🙂