Does it ever feel like all your Facebook friends have much more exciting and glamorous lives than you do?

I mean, on one level we’re genuinely happy when our friends rescue a cute little puppy. Or when they get to take a nap in the middle of the day, or discover the world’s best nachos, or experience the best sunset ever on the best beach ever with the best significant other in the whole universe.

But swiping through a compilation of highlights from our apparently cooler and more interesting friends’ lives can be a little overwhelming, and make us feel much less enthused about the coconut chocolate-chip muffin we picked up for desert, especially when compared with the job our friend just won with the Montreal Symphony.

So what’s the deal? Does Facebook make us unhappier and more lonely? Or happier and more connected socially?

And how does all this relate to auditions and confidence anyway?

Facebook makes us unhappier…or is it happier?

On one hand, there are studies which suggest that Facebook makes us unhappier. For instance, a recent University of Michigan study found that life satisfaction over a two-week period declined as Facebook usage increased.

On the other hand, there are studies which suggest that Facebook can improve our mood and sense of well-being, or decrease loneliness and make us feel more connected to our friends.

Argh. Which is it?

Well, the effect that Facebook has on us might depend on how we use Facebook.

If we actively engage with our community by posting status updates, or by reminiscing and reliving some good times by browsing old photos and wall posts, we may feel an uptick in mood.

On the other hand, passively flipping through the feed, reading about everyone’s daily highlights tends to make us feel envious and less thrilled about our lives.

Because our tendency is to underestimate the negativity in other peoples’ lives are, and overestimate the positives. After all, we don’t think about the argument they had with their significant other, how much they are struggling with insecurities at their new job, or the credit card debt that is constantly weighing on their mind.

Yet we imagine how much fun their awesome neighborhood chili cook-off must have been. How cool the new movie screening they got to go to was. And how epic that 32-oz Turkish iced mochachino had to have been. (for more, see The Anti-Social Network)

Which leads to the issue of confidence.

External comparisons will drive you nuts

This tendency to look at what other people appear to be from the outside, and use this as a yardstick to figure out how we measure up, might have some degree of usefulness when it comes to motivating ourselves to work harder and avoid overconfidence or complacence.

But if we do this on a constant basis, or continue to compare ourselves with others as the date of an audition or competition draws nearer, we can totally undermine our confidence and sense of who we are and what we have to offer.

After all, is it helping you to know that a friend of a friend just got a trial with the Milwaukee Symphony? Or that so-and-so got to the finals of the Chicago Symphony job, but nobody was offered a position? That someone was totally not prepared (according to them, anyway) yet still won the school orchestra’s seating audition?

Trying to figure out where you stand by comparing yourself to other people, or relying on standards defined by others (e.g. praise or criticism, advancing or getting cut), is an inherently unstable way of developing confidence. And a difficult way to develop your own artistic DNA as well.

After all, one great artist may say they love your easy, relaxed, luscious vibrato. Another may say your vibrato is too slow and lazy.

You could play a seemingly flawless audition, yet fail to advance. Then go to an even bigger audition, have a mediocre performance, yet advance anyway.

Athletes get caught in this external comparison trap as well. We’ve all seen talented basketball players for instance, who struggle mightily when they try to “be like Mike” and play a style of basketball they aren’t suited for. Then they get traded to a different team, are tasked with a different set of responsibilities, and suddenly thrive as they focus on playing to their true strengths.

Develop your own internal standards

A more stable way of building confidence is to rely on what psychologists call an internal locus of evaluation, where you begin to develop your own set of criteria for excellence, rather than seeking external points of reference.

What do you think a great sound is? How did you think you played at the last audition? What did you think were the best (and worst) parts of your performance?

What do you think this phrase ought to sound like? Which notes do you believe should be brought out in the left hand? How long do you think the high note should be sustained, given the context of what comes before and after?

Note that an internal locus of evaluation doesn’t mean you ought to close yourself off completely to feedback from those more experienced and knowledgeable than yourself. It just means thinking for yourself, developing your own voice, and not blindly accepting everything you are presented with (yes, this blog included).

Take action

So as you get closer to the big day, consider going on a Facebook diet. Around three weeks out from your audition, experiment with a three-day trial, and see how it feels when you cut down on information about what other people are doing, achieving, and thinking about, so that you might free yourself up to focus more on what you want and where you are trying to go.

Of course, once the audition is over, then you can log on and humblebrag all you want about your awesome performance.

Additional reading…and other random stuff

Author (and psychology Ph.D.) Maria Konnikova has a great piece on Facebook at The New Yorker: The real reason Facebook makes us unhappy

While you’re at it, check out her website for a great example of a bio that engages, entertains, and establishes credibility all at the same time: About Maria Konnikova

Not sure how to craft a proper humblebrag? Use this handy humblebrag generator, until you get the hang of it.

The one-sentence summary

“Don’t compare your behind-the-scenes life with someone else’s highlight reel.” ~Unknown

photo credit: lukesaagi via photopin cc

About Noa Kageyama, Ph.D.

Performance psychologist and Juilliard alumnus & faculty member Noa Kageyama teaches musicians how to beat performance anxiety and play their best under pressure through live classes, coachings, and an online home-study course. Based in NYC, he is married to a terrific pianist, has two hilarious kids, and is a wee bit obsessed with technology and all things Apple.

After Countless Hours of Practice, Why Are Performances Still so Hit or Miss?

It’s not a talent issue. And that rush of adrenaline and emotional roller coaster you experience before performances is totally normal too.

Performing at the upper ranges of your ability under pressure is a unique skill – one that requires specific mental skills and a few tweaks in your approach to practicing. Elite athletes have been learning these techniques for decades; if nerves and self-doubt have been recurring obstacles in your performances, I’d like to help you do the same.

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