How to Turn Setbacks & Failure Into Motivation & Success as a Musician

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Understanding Motivation & Success

When you’re creating music and sharing it with the world, it’s inevitable that you’re going to have setbacks, roadblocks and failures.

You’re going to write music that sucks, you’ll have negative criticism, you’re going to get trolled, you’re going to get turned down by record labels and passed over for gigs. That’s just life and you can’t avoid these things.

But, how you feel about these events will dramatically affect how, or if, you bounce back from these things. Unfortunately, I see far too many musicians get frustrated, feeling defeated and having the wind sucked out of their sails. I see musicians who stop creating, or numb themselves out with alcohol, weed, or drugs, or get lost in overindulgence in sex, binging Netflix, or over-eating. Or get mired up in procrastination and perfectionism.

It just breaks my heart to see talented, ambitious people taken out like this. So I made this video to give you some tools that’ll help you handle things when these inevitable setbacks happen.

I’ve been coaching musicians professionally for about 10 years now. Just “staying positive” or “pushing through and crushing it” and other catchphrases don’t cut it. They might feel good to say to yourself for a moment, but there’s no “how” inherent in them. You need a proven system.

What I’ll share next is a short-list of techniques that can help you to stay resilient, motivated and determined on the path towards your goals, even in the face of failure. These are things I’ve personally tested and seen work for hundreds of musicians I’ve coached. If what I’m about to share resonates with you and you’d like to get some personalized help with your music or career, I’ve dropped a link to my coaching programs below.

Vespers’s 1-on-1 Personalized Accelerate Coaching:
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Technique #1 – Change Your Language

Our words are extremely powerful because words carry an emotional charge. The word failure carries a very strong negative charge, often involving feelings of shame, resignation, and despair.

One of the most effective things you can do is change the words you’re using. Instead of labeling something as a “failure”, you can use a different word with less impact. I prefer the words:

  • Setback
  • Challenge
  • Miss
  • Roadblock
  • Oops
  • Fumble
  • Or, even better, a “lesson” or an “opportunity to learn”

These last 2 are particularly useful because a lesson carries value. It’s seen as positive. So does an opportunity.

This might seem simple, but don’t overlook it. It’s part of a significant movement right now called Quantum Languaging. It’s all about using languaging hacks to shift how you feel about something.

So give it a shot. Next time you think you’ve failed at something, try using different words and noticing how you feel. It’s been my experience that we feel much more optimistic in the face of a “little setback” than a failure.

Technique #2 – Reframe Failure

To stay resilient and to keep our creative fires going in the face of setbacks, we need to change the way we look at things. A great way of doing this is using a technique from NLP, or neuro-linguistic programming, called reframing.

You can think of a frame like a lens on a camera. The same camera with two different lenses can shoot the same scene and it’ll look completely different.

When you understand this, you can swap lenses, and trade in the failure frame for the curiosity frame. Failure can then be useful because it contains super important feedback about exactly what needs to change. If you’re using the curiosity frame, you can learn from failure.

Just as studying successful people can lead to an understanding of how they achieved their success, so can studying failure show you the pattern that leads to failure. Failure has a recipe, but you can’t learn what that pattern is, or what needs to change if you’re not curious.

Watch your tendency to skip over failure, to not focus on it or dwell on it because that’s “negative” and you need to stay “positive”. If you never study the structure of failure, you’ll never reap the benefits of the feedback and lessons that are available for you.

The next time you have a setback, don’t try and brush it off or forget about it. Put on your curiosity frame, and study it, learning exactly what you should change next time around.

Technique #3 – Separate Fact from Story

Feeling like you’ve failed is bad enough on its own, but many times there’s a second issue. We’ll unconsciously create a story about what that failure means about us that causes even more distress.

There’s a Buddhist metaphor that explains this called “the second arrow.” It goes like this. Something bad happens like posting your first track on Soundcloud, and people are hating on it, or sending your music into a record label, and they reply saying it’s just not good enough.

That triggering event is known as the first arrow, and it’s natural and pretty much unavoidable to feel bad about this. You can’t control the first arrow.

What often happens next though is we start into the story of what this means about us. Things like, “I knew I wasn’t any good. Maybe I’m just not cut out for this. I can’t write good music, and now everyone knows how much I really suck.” This is the second arrow. The second arrow is suffering, and we do it to ourselves.

The pain of the first arrow is inevitable. But the suffering caused by the second arrow is optional because it’s self-inflicted. Unfortunately, many of us are brutal at beating ourselves up. We can be so fucking hard on ourselves, when really what we need is to be gentle.

To catch the second arrow requires that you’re aware enough to observe your self-talk in real-time. If you can separate the triggering event, from the story that you’re telling yourself about what it means about you, and change your self-talk, you can avoid the suffering.

So really closely monitor what you’re saying to yourself, and watch for signs of the story. Just being aware of this will help you shift it. Don’t make yourself suffer unnecessarily with the second arrow.

Technique #4 – Mental Success Movie

There’s something that many resilient and triumphant people do. They have a short memory of failure and a vivid memory of successes.

Most of us do the opposite. We obsess over our perceived failures, replaying them in our minds over and over. Aside from doing this once to learn from the structure of that failure, there’s no benefit, only drawbacks.

An author I follow is Dr. Joe Dispenza. He’s discovered, through years of research, that when you replay a negative event in your mind, all of the same stress hormones and neurotransmitters get released just as if it was happening to you again in the real. Imagine how detrimental this is, to experience the stress of an event like that over and over.

The silver lining in this is that the exact opposite is true too. When you replay successes in your mind, you change your state in a positive way. So what I recommend is a mental success movie.

You simply create a mental compilation of events where you achieved what you wanted, had a win, or felt good about step forwards on your path. Make this movie as vivid as possible, engaging all your senses. What did these events look like, feel like, what smells or tastes were present. The more real you can make it, the stronger the effect will be.

To strengthen the effect, I recommend using a physical anchor. An anchor is something that’ll help you trigger these positive feelings in the future. I touch two of my fingers together like this when I’m playing my mental success movie. And any time I experience something positive where I feel empowered and confident, I use that anchor to strengthen the association.

Once you’ve built up these tools, you can use your anchor and your mental success movie to activate yourself before a studio session, when going on stage for a gig, or prior to an important meeting. It takes effort and discipline to set these up, but they are amazing and effective tools. Try them out!

Wrap Up

I hope you’ve gotten a lot out of these tips. I’d just like to give credit where credit is due and say I didn’t come up with these. I learned them from books, coaching programs I’ve taken and the research I’ve done. I’d like to give a nod the folks who came up with them, so I’ve linked a few things above in the Extra Resources section.

If you liked what we covered in this video, and you want to really make big changes with your music, then I’ve also dropped links for my coaching programs below.

I’m so glad you tuned in for this and I hope these techniques are of great service to you.  I wish you all the best with your music and I hope we connect again soon.

Vespers’s 1-on-1 Personalized Accelerate Coaching:
Vespers’s Creative Mastery Course: