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Mental Toughness for Songwriters

In 10 minutes a day you can:

Stop Stage Fright, Solve Songwriting Stagnation and Perfect your Practicing


10 Minute Toughness – Book Review and Summary


10 Minute Toughness: the Mental Training Program for Winning Before the Game Begins by Dr. Jason Selk (McGraw Hill, 2009), a sports psychologist who worked with the St. Louis Cardinals and other professional athletes in many sports.


The book is written from a sports perspective, but it directly applies to musicians (or anyone else) who has to perform at their peak every time they step onto the field or the stage. The steps of the workout are “performance” based, so they work for musicians too. The stories he uses to explain his concepts and the mental training are sports based, but you don’t need to understand any of the sports to understand his message or use his program.


What’s Mental Toughness?

It’s the ability to keep focused and to get the important things done, especially when things get difficult!


Why should I read this book?

Would you spend ten minutes a day to develop your mental toughness and mental focus so you can:

  • Solve stage fright and your calm pre-gig jitters by calming your mind for performances so you can sing and play at your best every time
  • Motivate yourself to get the work done
  • Songwriting sessions and singing/instrumental practice to be more productive and get better results from your practicing
  • Drop into “the zone” on demand instead of hoping to get lucky
  • Or teach yourself to become more effective and productive as a songwriter, musician or as a person



10 Minute Toughness - Cover


At 180 pages, it’s a relatively short book but you still have to put some thought and consistent work in to get the promised results. There are questions to answer in each chapter that take a little thought, but you can get through the book in a week. Once you have set up your mental workout, it takes about 10 minutes a day to complete it.


The Workout – overview:

There are three main components to the workout

  1. Goal review (1 minute)
  2. Mental Workout (5-6 minutes)
  3. Write in your Success Log (2-3 minutes, 4-5 sentences a day)


Goal Setting

Dr. Selk discusses 3 types of goals in chapter 6

Ultimate Goals – your are life goals, things on your bucket list. You start here to help you define your other goals

Product Goals – things to accomplish in the next few months

Process Goals – what you have to do consistently to accomplish your product goals

As a songwriter, you could choose:

Ultimate Goals

This is where you think big… about what you really want to get out of life!

  • Grammy award(s)
  • #1 song
  • Successful string of songs that touch a generation…
  • A solid income stream from songs that you and other artists record


Product Goals

Things to accomplish on the way towards your ultimate goals:

  • Write a song this month
  • Write a song a month for a year
  • Learn how to sing or play a new song every two weeks
  • Transcribe lyrics to a new song a week
  • Release an EP in six months

Process Goals

What you need to do consistently to reach your product goal(s)

  • Work on songwriting for 15+ minutes, 6 days a week
  • Take an online songwriting course and work at it for 90 minutes a week
  • Practice your instrument for 15 + minutes a day (leave some time for songwriting!)


Dr. Selk maintains there are two reasons that most people don’t achieve their goals. First, most people choose product goals without planning a way to achieve them (by using process goals). Second, most people write down goals and then never look at them again….


To solve the problem of ignoring your goals, the workout starts and ends with your goals. At the start of your workout (practice session or performance) briefly read through your goals and notes from the previous session. At the end of your session, take 2-3 minutes to  write notes about your practice that day and choose one thing to do differently the next day. You stay accountable to yourself and to your goals, and focus on them while you practice or perform.



Mental Toughness for Songwriters

The Mental Workout – Components

5 steps – about 5 minutes a day

  1. Centering Breath
  2. Personal Performance statement
  3. Personal Highlight Reel – Excellent Past Performance & Upcoming Performance
  4. Identity Statement
  5. Centering Breath

Five minutes and done!


Details About Each Workout Component:

Centering Breaths

The centering breath before and after the visualizations puts you in a receptive frame of mind and calms you so you are focused. It helps you find the zone (with the help of rest of the workout) so that you are in the optimum arousal state (your level of excitement, you want to be chill instead of jittery) to perform. Centered breathing automatically reduces your heart rate and slows down your nervous system.



Personal Performance Statement

Chapter 2 helps you create a personal performance statement. This is your new mantra, reminding you of the two or three key details that will maximize your results. By starting with your product goals and examining how you perform/practice, you decide where to focus your mind that will get you the results you want. By incorporating these into a few short phrases, you can repeat them to yourself to regain your focus, even under stress… and replace any distracting or negative chatter that knocks you out of the zone. Come back to it whenever you find yourself slipping out of the zone.


Musician Examples

Songwriter: writing phase – Listen for the lyrics, Don’t argue with the muse – write without second guessing, go back and edit later

Songwriting: editing phase – Feel it fast, sing it like it feels – get to the point, let the audience know what I’m feeling, make sure the lyrics sing naturally and the melody supports the lyrics

Singer: Drop my jaw, Resonate, Let every lyric sing me – open my mouth further to let out my voice, resonate (by lifting my soft palate and vibrating in my lower nasal cavity), let the lyrics flow out without internal chatter distracting me

Guitarist: Light fingers, light strum, loose arms – fretting fingers stay relaxed and move quickly, strumming hand stays relaxed, arms are tension free



Personal Highlight Reel

Chapter 3 breaks down this step, guiding you through the process of creating two 60-90 second visualizations, one of an excellent past performance and another of an upcoming performance. You visualize a success in the past and one in the immediate future, so you can prime yourself to give your best, distraction free performance.



  • Visualize in detail (as vividly as possible)
  • Include sight and sound, sensation when possible
  • Imagine in real time, especially for motor skills
  • Include emotions that you did/want to feel



Identity Statement

You gradually transform your self image by creating a two-part identity statement in chapter 4. The first part of the statement describes a strength that you have or wish to develop. The second part describes what you wish to accomplish or become. Using your identity statement helps you imagine yourself as you wish to become. It can feel awkward as you get used to it, because you are telling yourself something that is only (at this time) partially true.


I found small changes to the phrasing made it easier to start using them comfortably. For example, substituting “I am becoming” for “I am” made it feel more natural until I got the hang of it. These are examples I used myself, the syntax is slightly different than what is described in the book.


Musical Examples:

I work consistently and make quick decisions that sound great. I am an excellent songwriter. (I have a bad habit of spending too much time making writing decisions instead of trusting my gut instinct)

I touch my audience with every word. I am an emotive singer that changes people’s lives with my music. (I remember every lyric and deliver it with passion… I have forgotten lyrics when singing in front of an audience. I started to believe that I couldn’t remember my own lyrics. I used this and a great deal of practicing to undo that story and learn to focus on delivering lyrics instead of stressing about remembering them)

I sing effortlessly through my guitar. I am a powerhouse guitarist. (effortlessly = relaxed arms, I tense my arms enough to affect my playing if I don’t remind myself to “let go”)



Centering Breath

Closing out the workout is a long centering breath, which leaves you calm and ready to deliver your best performance.



So does all this really work?

Yes, like everything else on epicsongwriting… I have tested it myself!

I used some of the ideas are in Daily Songwriting (product and process goals, referring to your yesterday’s notes and writing a quick journal entry). I have also used the mental training for songwriting, singing, guitar playing and to help me focus while I practice songwriting and singing/playing.




Is it worth the effort?

10 minutes a day to set yourself up for whatever success you want…

Of course it’s worth it, but you have to do the work to get the results.


It takes a little time to set up your workout and it takes some effort to do it everyday. For me, the hardest part was spending the time learning to visualize with details, instead of skipping through it quickly. I tried to speed it up and get through my workout faster, instead of carefully imagining myself in real time and adding emotions and details. It was way more effective when I followed the instructions properly. A little patience makes all the difference.


At $15 US (<$25 CAN) on Amazon for the hardcover (softcover $10, Kindle $13), it’s one of the best book values I have ever read… 


Click the image below to order your own

copy of the book from Amazon (Affiliate link)

(change “.com” in the address of your browser, if it doesn’t go to Amazon in your country)

(or go to your favorite book seller and search “10 Minute Toughness Jason Selk”)



Do the work and get the results!


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© Trevor Dimoff,, 2019