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Toughness Training, month (oops) 1

This should have been done weeks ago. Oops...

This month I had to do some soul searching, and really come to an understanding of my strengths and weaknesses. Emotionally I’m a bit of a trainwreck. Possibly I’m more stressed than I think I am. Or maybe, as James Loehr suggests, I’m not mentally tough enough. I’m going to go down that path and see what results I can get when I take the toughness training to heart and really apply some of the techniques.

As Loehr discusses in the early chapters of his book, “Toughness is the ability to consistently perform toward the upper range of your talent and skill regardless of the competitive circumstances.” The skills necessary for toughness are emotional flexibility, responsiveness, strength, and resiliency. He goes on to state that when our feelings change toward the fearful and negative, our body chemistry changes, negatively impacting our ability to physically perform - balance, coordination, muscle-response accuracy, and concentration. Some of these feelings arise due to bodily needs not being met, like dehydration and low blood sugar, but he suggests that a mentally tough individual should be able to push past those needs while performing. He differentiates between the real self (how you actually feel) and the performer self (how you need to feel for peak performance). In order to consistently tap into the performer self and make it stronger and more resilient, we need to become better actors.

Loehr makes two points that struck a chord with me:

1. Nobody cares how you feel. I know this is obvious, and in an earlier time in my development I would have been crushed by that feeling. Now, however, I get it. I certainly don’t care if somebody I’m performing with just isn’t feeling it that day, or they’ve got issues at home, or they’re tired, or whatever. Doesn’t matter. When you’re performing, you have a job to do. It took me until this week to really understand what it means to leave it at the door. This is a weak point for me and definitely one I need to focus on.

2. Emotions respond as much as muscles do. The ones you stimulate the most become the strongest and most accessible. For a performer, the skills most needed are disciplined thinking/imaging skills, physical acting skills (i.e. acting how you want to feel), and quick emotional response.

Loehr has created a “Competitive Adjective Profile” survey where the performer can rate themselves on a scale of one to ten. On the high end are positive adjectives like competitive, motivated, patient, realistic, and focused; while on the low end are the opposite adjectives (noncompetitive, unmotivated, impatient, unrealistic, unfocused, respectively). In total there are 26 categories, and at the end the lowest four are the ones to be improved upon for the next month. The only red flag is motivation, where anything below a 7 indicates maybe you shouldn’t be practicing right now. A one-page summary of what you intend to do about each skill is to be written, and acted upon every day and a record is to be kept tracking your progress. A +1 for an improvement, 0 for no change, and -1 for going backwards. At the end of 30 days the test is to be taken again and the whole process is to be repeated with the new low four. My lowest were: low confidence (3), weak body language (4), unwilling to take risks (5), and moody/emotionally rigid/unskilled at acting (5). I put the last three together although they are separate things because I rated them the same and they seemed to be very similar at their core. Recently I’ve often been in a bad mood and I’m not great at hiding it. I did write up plans of action for all of these but I will not be putting them up here. While I want to share as much of my journey as possible, some things I would prefer to keep private.

This first month got off to a rough start. Not a lot of measurable improvement, but for many of these components it is difficult to consistently find opportunities to improve things. For example, how do I take more risks when practicing at home alone in my studio? I can take all the risks I want and fail as many times as I please when I know there’s nobody there listening. My acting skills and body language have found their improvement at work, it seems. I’m not doing anything different, but I’m more aware of my attitude and how I present myself when sitting at a desk speaking to clients.

Shortly after I took the Competitive Adjectives Profile test, I came across a great blog by another musician, percussionist Rob Knopper. He has reached a very high level of success (MET Opera Orchestra), and has generously shared his journey with the world. It’s not often somebody takes the time to talk about all the times they failed, especially as that is not something people tend to want to really advertise. But he realized it is a very important part of the process, and he shared his insights on why he failed and how he resolved his issues. His best suggestion was to record everything. I tried it, knowing full well how much I don’t enjoy that process and I was surprised how quickly I heard things that weren’t working. I could pinpoint the exact note that didn’t work, and I knew what it should sound like. The first week of using this technique I probably did as much work as I would have accomplished in a month. All I was doing was teaching myself in the same manner that I teach my students, because now I could actually hear properly what was and was not working. You can read his blog here:

In a later post I will discuss some of the methods discussed in the Inner Game and how that has effected my practicing and toughness training.

Until the next time!

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