A student of mine recently played a page of difficult music fluently, then faltered on one note. This is normal; if you’re learning, you’re going to hit your edge. We worked on that one note, and after not too long my student was able to get it. But they felt scared: what if they weren't able to get it without my help?
I said I’d let them figure it out alone this time around. We did it again and they got it. It was clear to me that they were ready to practice it on their own during the week.
My student was still scared, though. They felt overwhelmed.
"What is it?" I asked.
"What if," they said, "I can’t play any of it tomorrow?"
My first instinct was to say something consoling to the effect of ‘Nonsense. You played it beautifully today; of course you’ll be able to play it tomorrow.’ My second instinct knew that fear was talking, and that fear doesn’t speak this language.
Instead I said, "I understand. I’ve been afraid I’ll forget how to play, too."
Because to all of us, fear likes to say things that aren’t true, usually concerning the things we care about most. Threatening that I’ll lose something I’ve worked hard to acquire and that gives me a lot of joy is just the sort of thing fear loves to do.
"Fear is hungry," I said. "It’ll say whatever it can in order to get the biggest reaction out of us. That’s how it lives and gets bigger."
We worked some more after that and my student was able to see that they could indeed figure out this spot. Then we wrote down some tiny but powerful truths that they could say to themselves if they felt the fear coming on:
I am capable.
I know I can figure this out.
I have all the time I need.
It takes courage and wisdom to acknowledge and address fear. I was impressed with my student's ability to articulate what they were going through. My student was comforted to know that they weren’t the only person who had these feelings, and my hope is that if you ever feel momentarily paralyzed by this kind of fear, on a large or a small scale, you will be too.