And How to Eliminate Them

by Marianne Ploger © 2005

(from her Method, employed since 1981)

          When we flub a technical passage - either once or repeatedly, have a memory slip, cannot seem to get a difficult rhythm, stumble when reading or singing a passage at sight, or when, in spite of hours of careful practice, we cannot perform under pressure, our problems can usually be traced back to three main causes which I refer to as: REACTION, ANTICIPATION and LOOKING BACK. 

           Each of these three causes of error is characterized by a specific set of symptoms which you can learn to identify and which you will probably recognize from your past experiences. Once you know the symptoms, you can apply an appropriate cure; you can adjust your thinking so that, instead of failing, you can succeed. 

          How can there be only three causes of the seemingly endless array of errors we make? Because most errors stem from the how we use our mind. Our attitude when performing tasks, whether simple or complex, determines our success. It seemed to me, at first, that mistakes happened randomly or as a result of lack of talent or ability. However, I have always been unwilling to accept this concept, having taught individuals considered (by conventional notions) either talented/unmusical and musical/untalented. The talented/unmusical individuals perform difficult musical tasks with ease, but often lack the ability to convey meaning in anything which they undertake. They are the 'trained birds' mentioned by CPE Bach in his famous treatise on playing keyboard instruments. On the other hand, those who are musical/untalented play with conviction and passion; they love music deeply, but may have significant physical and mental barriers, which prohibit success. 

          After having taught for several years, (thousands of hours), I began to discern that, when errors occurred, my students, whether talented/unmusical or musical/untalented, exhibited specific traits in their behavior. These traits were absent when they performed well. As I focused increasingly on the attitudinal behaviors accompanying errors more than the errors themselves, a clear pattern emerged. When an error occurs, our mind is engaged in one of three main behaviors: we are zooming in on what we are doing, as a response to being surprised; or, we are daydreaming, guessing, or fantasizing while performing a task; or, we are judging and criticizing as we are trying to perform. 

          Knowing why we tend to behave in ways which are destructive helps us change those behaviors. To that end, we profit from knowing the roots of the cause of error! We profit from knowing why we have, in the past, adopted methodologies which bring about failure! And we profit from knowing why we continue to choose them! Fortunately, we can learn to avoid choosing these unsuccessful strategies and, happily, to apply successful strategies. 

          Below are thumbnails sketches of The Three Causes of Error in which I identify the mental behavioral characteristics (the Symptom), the probable reason for choosing the inappropriate response (the Cause), and the best means of replacing the unsuccessful strategy with one which works (the Cure).  Along with the text of the original article, you'll find videos which contain more details about each of the three causes.



You suddenly stop in a performance of a task; you mentally 'freeze' on the spot. You cannot seem to think or respond without great effort. You have a memory slip, being unable to remember. You cannot continue. All of these symptoms are accompanied by an extreme visual zoom into the object of focus. 


A limbic response to surprise. A mental state of fight or flight, likely caused by the activation of the more primitive part of the brain, called the limbic region. The unwitting activation of this region of the brain is brought on by change or surprise, no matter how large or small. This frequently gives rise to a secondary reaction, caused by an aversion or repugnance to the negative stimulus.


Avoid surprise by mentally expanding your conscious awareness so that it includes all parameters-physical, mental, emotional, spiritual-which you are likely to encounter in the performance of the task. Know your domain. Accept your domain; accept with equanimity and embrace all aspects or elements of a task. Be in Eagle Vision: The mental perspective in which you are high above any task, and where you can calmly and effortlessly keep track of a vast array of elements below. Expect the unexpected. Learn to accept surprises with joy and delight. 



You do something wrong, but without missing a beat, often without being conscious of having committed an error. There are two different types of errors of Anticipation: 


Paranoia or Arrogance: You do not trust that you will be able to trust your senses, so you second-guess what happens. You impose the way you want things to be rather than accepting them the way they truly are. 


Distractibility or daydreaming. 


The mind disengages from external sensing modalities (visual, kinesthetic and audio) in favor of internal mental constructs, or fantasies; i.e. you disconnect from external reality. The inappropriate cognitive modality is being used in lieu of the appropriate one; for example, the mind is listening when it should be seeing, or is seeing when it should be listening. 


Lead with the appropriate modality appropriate to the task, letting the others follow. When you read, lead with your eyes; when you listen, lead with your ears; when you dance, lead with your body. Learn to use your mental modalities effectively. If you have a tendency to prefer what you do better than what others have done, create your own original works. You will become better both as a creator and an actor, if you do. 



Looking backward (visual), hearing in your mind a critical commentary (audio), and/or having a feeling of being pulled backward (kinesthetic) in the course of a performance. Imagine this scenario. There are two players-you are both. They are an Olympic swimmer and her coach. Imagine that the race has begun. The coach sees that the swimmer is doing something wrong, jumps into the pool and pulls on and screams at the swimmer who struggles to continue. The swimmer can neither keep swimming for long, nor can she hear what the coach is saying. 


Judging or assessing takes place during the performance of a task. Your mental 'coach' interferes in the action. You attempt, unsuccessfully, to implement mental software before it has been correctly installed. The coach has not prepared correctly and wrongly believes it necessary to correct problems during the act, when it is too late. 


If you are literally looking back, go into Eagle Vision, where you can clearly see what is currently going on below. If, you feel the magnetic pull backward, imagine that the pull is from an electromagnet to which you have control of the pull lever which turns it on or off. TURN IT OFF, NOW!. Feel the release from the pull as you move freely. If you have the coach talking in your head, say COACH OUT! As you say this, imagine that he is instantly sucked backward out of the pool. He is silenced. To permanently fix Looking Back, your mental coach must learn the three-step process which leads to success:

          1.  Prepare: To the best of your ability, know the necessary components of a task, working on any which are weak.

          2.  Watch/Coach OUT!: Remove yourself from thinking, programming, judging during the action; stay out of the pool! Trust your inner athlete to do the right thing, because it knows what to expect and what to do. Stop all inner talking. 

          3.  Reflect: After the task, review what went well and what remains to be improved. Use this information to prepare for the next event.