Dr. Barbara Fredrickson smiling

Barbara Fredrickson

“Positive emotions open our hearts and minds, making us more receptive and more creative.”
–Barbara Fredrickson, Ph.D.
Positivity, p. 21

We musicians intuitively understand the power of positive emotions.

Whether we’re practicing or performing, we know that feelings such as joy and hope ignite our artistry.

We also understand that, on the flipside, negativity can sap our motivation and stifle our musicality.

Researchers of late have been shedding light on the connections between positive emotions and creativity.

Now, pioneering investigator Barbara Fredrickson has published her findings in a book titled Positivity.

The Effects of Positivity

Dr. Fredrickson distills the ways in which positive emotions broaden our minds and help us build up knowledge and skills.

She has also discovered that, to thrive, we need to maintain a minimum positivity ratio of 3 to 1. That is, when we experience positive emotions at least three times more than negative ones, we’re set to flourish; less than that, and we stagnate or worse.

That may sound too simple to believe, but researchers across the globe have confirmed that ratio (see Positivity for details).*

In this post, I list the six most common forms of positivity identified by Dr. Fredrickson and offer suggestions for cultivating them in the practice studio and concert hall.

Zapping Negativity

To begin with, let’s acknowledge that we’re going to have negative emotions.

For instance, we might feel frustrated in practice when a passage eludes our control. Or perhaps we’ll flush with embarrassment when we fudge a phrase during a concert. Plus, there will be times when a colleague shows up unprepared for a rehearsal and our anger might rise.

Whatever the situation, if we feed negative feelings, our creativity will constrict, so it’s vital that we learn to nip negativity in the bud. Here’s a classic technique.

How to Replace Negative thoughts with Positive Ones

1. Recognize negativity.
2. Dispute it.
3. Replace it with a positive self-statement known as an affirmation.

Example: if we become aggravated by a tricky passage in practice, we should calmly notice the negative feeling, dispute it by saying to ourselves something like, “No,” or “That’s not helping,” and then replace it with an affirmation such as, “I can figure this out and enjoy the process.” At the same time, it helps to take a deep breath and release any muscle tension.

The following are sample affirmations that inject positive emotions into our work.

Bear in mind that, to be effective, affirmations must be heartfelt. We can reinforce positive emotions in other ways, too, among them, by maintaining healthy relationships and getting regular exercise.

Affirmations to Cultivate 6 Common Forms of Positivity

1. Love

Before a practice session, or backstage at a concert, we might do some whole-body movements and silently repeat one or more of these affirmations:
“I feel an infinite love of music.”
“I love to make music.”
“Music is my true love.”

2. Joy

“Music making is one of life’s true joys.”
“Creating music with others is an indescribable pleasure.”
“Music always makes me happy.”

3. Gratitude

“I’m thankful to be able to make music.”
“I’m grateful to all of the people who have inspired and supported my music making.”
“I’m fortunate to have been able to pursue my love of music.”

4. Serenity

Maybe do some 2-to-1 breathing, and then say:
“I am at peace.”
“I’m confident in my abilities.”
“I trust in my capacity to grow.”

5. Interest

“I’m fascinated by the emotional power of music.”
“Music making offers endless possibilities for discovery.”
“I love to learn about music making and the creative process.”

6. Hope

“My musical potential is limitless.”
“Through steady practice, I’ll realize my dreams.”
“I’m ready to perform; this is going to be fun.”

Discover your positivity ratio at Dr. Fredrickson’s site PositivityRatio.com.
Preview Positivity at Amazon.com.
Listen to Dr. Fredrickson discuss her research on YouTube.

The Musician's Way book cover
*Update: The mathematical underpinnings that gave rise to Frederickson’s 3:1 ratio were debunked in a 2013 paper. In a subsequent rebuttal, “Updated Thinking on Positivity Ratios,” Frederickson asserted that her research nonetheless affirms the benefits of higher positivity ratios.

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2-to-1 breathing
The abundance mentality
Confronting stage fright
Glorious details
The growth mindset

© 2010 Gerald Klickstein