If you had to put your biggest singing-related goal into one sentence, what would it be?
Hi. I’m Petra Raspel and I’m a voice and mindset coach in the UK. My purpose is to help performers overcome the limiting beliefs and emotional blocks that affect their performances.
Look back at the question above, grab a piece of paper and write it down right now…
And what have you recently done to get closer to that goal?
If you can come up with a list of specific actions you have taken, that’s even better. If these specific actions got you closer to achieving that goal, you probably don’t need to read any further. However, you’d be surprised how many singers (professional and avocational alike) I meet on a daily basis who throw a blank when I ask them exactly this question.
If, and how quickly, we reach our vocal or career goals depends on the successful completion of each of these steps:
- We need to be clear about our goals, and they need to be specific enough to be actionable (sorry folks, “I want to be a better singer” or “I want to be famous” are neither specific nor actionable).
- We actually need to TAKE ACTION. Every day.
- We need to understand what holds us back from taking the right, or most helpful, action.
Many people get stuck at step one and never move anywhere near step two. Many people also move over to step two, but still never reach their goals. So if any of these hold true for you, you might want to keep on reading. For the heavy bingers out there, there’s also a video and reading list at the bottom of the page that allows you to really dive in.
Here’s the good news!
“Getting stuck” is not an uncommon problem, and there is a lot of help available, from books to videos and TED talks, or even coaching: I spend most of my day helping artists to get unstuck by changing their mindset. And I can tell you one thing: It is usually step three where the magic happens. Because let’s face it:
Taking action is one thing – having the confidence to take the most helpful action is another.
We are often afraid of taking action: Afraid because we have to change, afraid because we fear judgment or failure, afraid because we fear success (yes, you read that right). It is often easier to stay in the (dis)comfort of staying stuck, than to actually take a risk. And the sneaky thing is that we’re sometimes not even aware of being afraid – we just unknowingly sabotage ourselves without noticing. But let’s start at the very beginning…
Step 1: Goal setting and clarity
To take action, you actually need to know what you want, right? You can obviously gain clarity about a lot of areas in your life by figuring this out, but we are just going to talk about your artistic and professional goals now.
“But I’m not professional!”
If you don’t intend to work as a professional singer and want to keep it as a hobby, that’s okay, too. Just focus on the artistic goals. I separate “artistic” and “professional” on purpose, because they are not one and the same. And yet, we often mix them up.
Artistic goals are strictly about *you guessed it* your artistry: Technical skill, practice etc.
Professional goals are about developing your singing career, building your creative business, marketing etc.
So sit down, with a piece of paper or the notes on your phone. Whatever works best for you. Don’t censor anything – a goal is a goal.
Don’t make it purposefully small to begin with. Having a big goal is not the same as being unrealistic.
Be specific too. As an example; “I want to sing better” is not a specific goal. Neither is “I really want to perform more often” or “I want to make money with my singing”.
What does “sing better” mean to you? Developing better pitch? Increasing your range? Working on your “break”?
What amount of money are you thinking of? 5,000 a year to supplement your existing income? 5,000 a month to make a comfortable living?
Be as specific as possible, be it via assigning a number, or visualising the exact outcome you wish to achieve.
After you’ve brainstormed and put your goals on your list, I usually recommend to let them simmer for a bit. Sleep over it, then get your list out again and have a closer look. Which goals jump out at you and which ones don’t feel that important when looked at with a bit of distance?
Time to choose
Choose between one and three of your most important goals. I recommend the fewer the better so you don’t get side-tracked or go into “headless chicken” mode. Only by prioritising, you begin the process of turning dreams into real goals that require a plan.
If you get stuck, it’s worth remembering the old SMART-mnemonic way of carving out goals. Click here for something to help you with that.
Step 2: Carving out and taking actionable steps
Take your one to three goals, and break them down into the smallest steps possible. I’m talking about steps so small that you can do them today, right now.
“Making 5,000 this month” is not an actionable step. Enquiring about paid performance opportunities with a venue is.
“Solving my pitch problems” is not an actionable step. Looking for a vocal coach who can help you with that is. So is practising with a specific pitch improvement app. All, on a consistent, day-to-day basis.
Needless to say you are not just going to write down these steps. You are actually going to turn them into a daily to-do-list, and you literally tick them off.
If the steps you write down make you go “Whoa, not today!”,
- they are either too big (in that case, break them down further)
- your goal is not important enough to you, which is okay. Moving the goal posts is totally fine and normal from time to time. Sometimes our goals just evolve. Some become less important to us, others take over. If that happens all the time though, you’ll need to reassess your priorities, or
- you’ve reached procrastination-central and are encountering resistance. And this is where…
Step 3: Understanding and overcoming your fears and limiting beliefs
… comes into play. It’s the single most important step that makes all the difference between achieving your goals, or them staying a dream for the rest of your life.
I help artists to become aware of how they are sabotaging themselves and their progress and success as a singer. This includes you!
The usual suspects
So let’s have a quick look at the most common statements I hear when people are not reaching their goals:
1. It’s someone else’s fault, a.k.a. “Nobody gives me a chance and the world is just unfair”.
2. It’s still someone else’s fault, but I don’t really blame them, a.k.a. family obligations or “life always seems to get in the way”.
3. The “I don’t have the resources” excuse, a.k.a. “I can’t afford lessons/coaching/training”, often in combination with 2. (”No time”; time is also a resource).
4. The “I’m already good enough” delusion, a.k.a. “I don’t need to invest any more time, effort and money, and people should finally start to notice me.”
5. The “I am not good enough” block, a.k.a. “I am scared of failure, or to repeat the feeling/discomfort of past failure”.
Did you recognise yourself in any of those? If so, that’s actually good, because in that case, you know where to start. It takes guts to be honest with yourself and why you are not progressing.
Truth is, people often aren’t aware of how much their ingrained thought patterns are sabotaging them, and that’s where it gets tricky. Mental blocks and limiting beliefs are one of the biggest reasons why people get stuck at the goal setting stage and/or never take any (or potentially unhelpful) action.
So if you have that one big singing-related goal you never seem to reach, no matter how hard you try, it is very likely that you are unknowingly sabotaging yourself.
Are you prone to victim mindset?
This is defined as:
Everything that happens, or doesn’t happen, to you is someone else’s fault.
For people prone to victim mindset, I usually recommend a simple writing exercise. Imagine you are writing a short story about something that didn’t go so well. Who are the villains (it’s already very clear that you are the victim)? What did they do to you? How did they “make you” fail?
Switch it around!
And then you write that story again. Only this time, there are no villains and no victims, only heroes and their sidekicks. Yes, that former villain is your sidekick, and you are the hero. They are actually helping you with their actions, as strange as it may seem, because they show you what you need to improve on. They also show you what you don’t want to do, so you can move on and do something worth your while. They even show you how to develop strength and resilience by dusting yourself off and trying again.
Or how about even forgetting about the sidekick and just being the hero of your own story? About owning what happened to you. How about taking responsibility instead of shifting it and perceiving failure as a chance to grow? This is the main difference between people with a growth and a fixed mindset. People with a growth mindset don’t fail less often. They just believe that failure is a learning opportunity instead of something that has to stop you.
If you are one of the people who believes they are already good enough and people owe you a chance, you are also firmly stuck in both a victim, and a fixed, mindset.
Is it fear?
If fear is a problem for you, you should feel safe in the knowledge that you are not alone. We all experience fear. It doesn’t determine what you can or cannot achieve. So the next time fear of failure, fear of being judged, fear of not being “enough” holds you back, start to examine the roots of your fear. If you reach this point, this might be something you cannot do alone. There is absolutely no shame in getting the help of a coach like myself, or a therapist.
Don’t accept your thoughts as objective truth
Your truth they may be, but that’s not the equivalent of a fact. Question your thoughts, because they really are just that – thoughts. They have nothing to do with what you can or cannot achieve.
Imagine you have to find arguments for both a prosecution and defence, or: What makes your thoughts potentially true, what makes them potentially false? You will find at least (!) one argument that makes your beliefs questionable – that’s where you must start!
Another very helpful technique to help with fear-related procrastination is practising being in the moment. Fear is always based in not being present; We either make up future horror scenarios, or we fret about negative past experiences we do not wish to repeat.
If you begin to teach yourself to be truly in the moment, you will gradually learn to make peace with your fear-response, and it will affect your decision-making A LOT less. So take a deep breath, plus listen and look what is actually happening instead of assigning it meaning.
Learn to manage your time and money
Last but not least: If you are the “low in resources” type, there’s a way around that as well. Both the time and money argument aren’t valid excuses to stop doing what you are meant to do. For example, you can start putting money for coaching aside, even if it is just the equivalent of that daily Starbucks-habit. You might not be able to afford a lesson every week, but even just a drop-in session with a really good coach can give you valuable insight.
At the end of the day, YOU choose your priorities
Have a look at where you could save cash, read books about financial planning etc. Also check in on your money mindset, a.k.a the stories you are telling yourself about money (how to get it, how to hold on to it, who has the most, who is always struggling…). There are usually a lot of unhelpful beliefs to be unravelled that we have been carrying around since childhood.
The least valid excuse of all
The same applies to “not having time”. It’s the least valid excuse of them all and points towards procrastination and deeper fears you might not be aware of. Sometimes, it can also act as a compass that the thing you thought was important to you actually isn’t (anymore). In that case, you will need to find the courage to let go.
It is always possible to make time for something that’s really important to you. Ditch that Netflix habit and practise instead. Ask someone to help with watching the kids. Whatever excuse you choose, you should ask yourself why that is. Usually, procrastination means we are afraid of something. What are you afraid of? Failure? Success? Are you upper-limiting? Are you worried what person XYZ might say/think about your goals?
Make a start
If you’re one of the people who has been stuck in the goal-setting process for ages, or who never seems to take/complete any action towards your goals, start working through the tips in this post for each individual step. I know some of the questions in step three can feel quite uncomfortable, but I promise that once you start answering them, you will notice a difference
Here are my favourite TED TALKS:
- Grit: The Power of Passion And Perseverance
- How To Build Your Creative Confidence
- The Power Of Believing That You Can Improve
Here’s a great READING LIST for you:
- David Bayles: Art and Fear
- Julia Cameron: The Artists Way
- Angela Duckworth: Grit – The Power and Passion of Perseverance
- Carol Dweck: Mindset – Changing The Way You Think To Fulfil Your Potential
- Eric Maisel: Making Your Creative Mark
- Eric Maisel: Mastering Creative Anxiety – 24 Lesson for Writers, Painters, Musicians and Actors
- Steven Pressfield: The War of Art: Break Through Blocks and Win Your Inner Creative Battles
- Jeannie Thomma: Brave Artist – Getting The Work Done
- Jack White: Malady Of Art – Fear
She has helped hundreds of people to prepare for or sustain a singing career and overcome limiting beliefs and performance anxiety. Her work in the field of singing, creativity and performance psychology has been featured in several publications and podcasts.
Petra studied music, performance pedagogy and psychology and can look back on a career in musical theatre performance, private education and academia. Her coaching programs and her blog about mindset for creatives can be found on her website.