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Mental Toughness for Songwriters

Mental Toughness for Songwriters: perfect your practicing, solve songwriting stagnation and stop stage fright… Review of 10 Minute Toughness by Dr.Jason Selk
Mental Toughness for Songwriters - book review of 10 Minute Toughness by Dr. Jason Selk

Table of Contents

10 Minute Toughness: Book Review

In just 10 minutes a day you can:

  • Perfect your practicing
  • Solve your songwriting stagnation
  • Level up your songwriting results
  • Stop your stage fright

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.

10 Minute Toughness By Dr. Jason Selk

What is Mental Toughness?

Mental Toughness is the ability to keep focused and to get the important things done, especially when you’re under pressure to perform or when things start getting difficult!

Why Should I Read 10 Minute Toughness?

Would you spend ten minutes a day to develop your 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 your work done
  • Songwriting sessions and singing / instrumental practice that’s more productive and get better results from your practicing 
  • Drop into “the zone” on demand instead of hoping to get lucky, and
  • Teach yourself to become more effective and productive as a songwriter, musician or as a person

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.

A little pressure makes you stronger

The 10 Minute Toughness Workout – Overview

There are three main components to the workout:

1. Goal review and journaling (1 minute)

2. Mental workout (5-6 minutes)

3. Journaling (2-3 minutes, 4-5 sentences a day)

Goal Setting

Dr. Selk discusses 3 types of goals in chapter 6

Ultimate Goals – your 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 consistently do to accomplish your product goals

As a songwriter, your goals might be…

Ultimate Goals – Life Goals

  • Grammy award(s)
  • #1 song
  • Write a song that’s cut by a major artist
  • Develop a reputation as a go-to songwriter for major artists or a major label
  • Write a successful string of songs that touch a generation… 

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

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

1. Most people choose product goals without planning a way to achieve them (by using process goals). 

2. 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.

"The fence is in your mind" Picture of a frozen snow covered fence

The 10 Minute Toughness 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 you’re done!

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 slows down your nervous system and helps you find the zone (along with the rest of the workout) so that you are in the optimum arousal state (your best 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… 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. 

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.

Hints for the Personal Highlight Reel

  • 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
Working Out the Music in Your Head

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, I’m using syntax that’s slightly different from what’s 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 for your best performance.

I get my best songwriting ideas when I'm chilling, how to write a song without the frustration, songwriting process is more important htan songwriting tips

Does the 10 Minute Toughness Really Work?

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

I used some of the ideas in Daily Songwriting (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 10 Minute Toughness 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 the details, instead of skipping through it quickly. I tend to be lazy and hazy with visual visualizations, it’s easier for me to imagine hearing or feeling something. Instead of imagining myself in real time, I tried to speed it up and get through my workout faster. It was way more effective when I carefully followed the instructions. A little patience makes all the difference.

At $20USD on Amazon for the hardcover ($15 for the Kindle version), it’s one of the best book values I’ve ever bought. 

Do the Work to Get the Results

You can check your local bookstores for a copy of 10 Minute Toughness or try online:

https://www.amazon.com/10-Minute-Toughness-Training-Program-Winning/dp/0071600639/ (not an affiliate link)

(If it sends you to Amazon in the wrong country… change the “.com” to your country)

United Kingdom: Amazon.co.uk

Canada: Amazon.ca

Australia https://www.amazon.com.au/

Leave a comment to help other songwriters…

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Trevor Dimoff

Trevor Dimoff

Trevor Dimoff has taught, played and written music professionally for the last 25+ years.

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