How to Guarantee a Great Smile on Camera (And Get Into the Mood for Peak Performance)

Do you remember the episode of Friends, where Chandler couldn’t smile for the camera?

That was me on Friday morning. I was getting some new pictures taken and struggling mightily to fake my most sincerest smile. It was rainy outside, my tummy was grumbling for chili cheese omelets and chocolate chip pancakes, and I really didn’t feel like getting into a smiley mood.

And then, in an act of desperation, I tried something that optimized my mood for more smiles, and led to a complete transformation in my smiley-ness. In fact, I couldn’t stop smiling, and there were some pictures in which I was smiling too much (I’ll tell you what I did in a moment; it’s one of those really simple things that’s so obvious once you hear what it is).

What does this have to do with performance?

Researchers have found that one’s mood, whether it’s anger, confusion, depression, fatigue, tension, and vigor (those are the standard six that sport psychologists have tended to focus on), can enhance or impair performance, making the ability to self-regulate one’s mood states an important skill for athletes (and musicians) to develop.

So how exactly do athletes get into the mood?

Mood control

Studies have found that athletes use a range of strategies to regulate mood, and that there isn’t necessarily a single one-size-fits-all strategy that works in every situation for every athlete. For instance, the strategy that works best for managing anger may not work as effectively for managing fatigue.

Furthermore, while we naturally assume it’s better to go from negative emotions to more positive emotions, it’s not quite this simple. Some negative emotions, like anger, can facilitate performances for some. And there are some athletes who fail to perform their best when they feel too happy before a big event.

So over time, experienced athletes begin to develop greater self-awareness about which emotional states are most conducive to peak performances, and cultivate a “toolbox” of strategies that help them tweak their emotional state when necessary. Common strategies include:

  • Controlling one’s thoughts (like thinking about past successes)
  • Listening to music (to get pumped up, or inspired, or calm down, etc.)
  • Exercising (to increase energy level, reduce stress, manage anxieties)
  • Taking a nap
  • Changing one’s physical location (i.e. getting away from a negative situation, or going to a more energizing or emotionally uplifting place)
  • Taking a shower or splashing water on one’s face
  • Getting outside for some fresh air
  • Using relaxation techniques
  • Anticipating social situations or other fun plans in the future

Take action

Think of a strategy you could experiment with today to help you get into the mood to practice or perform more effectively. Try it out and see if your chosen strategy works. If so, how does it change your experience of practicing or performing?

Some students have found it helpful to listen to inspiring or relaxing music at various points before an audition or competition (more than one reported using the Game of Thrones theme song).

Some sales professionals recommend putting a picture of a loved one right above the phone, so that right before you answer the phone or make a phone call, it puts a smile on your face, which changes your phone manner, your tone of voice, and makes it more likely you’ll make a good first impression.

Oh, and how did I get myself to smile for the camera? I fired up the YouTube app on my iPhone, cued up some videos of comedians I think are funny, and let it play from my back pocket. The only downside was that the photographer had moments where he was laughing so hard he couldn’t keep the camera steady…but that was funny too and led to more smiles.

Question: What are your favorite strategies for regulating mood? Share below in the comments…

photo credit: Megathon Charlie via photopin cc

Ack! After Countless Hours of Practice...
Why Are Performances Still So Hit or Miss?

For most of my life, I assumed that it was because I wasn’t practicing enough. And that eventually, if I performed enough, the nerves would just go away and everything would take care of itself.

But in the same way that “practice, practice, practice” wasn’t the answer, “perform, perform, perform” wasn’t the answer either. In fact, simply performing more, without the tools to facilitate more positive performance experiences, just led to more negative performance experiences!

Eventually, I discovered that elite athletes are successful in shrinking this gap between practice and performance, because their training looks fundamentally different. In that it includes specialized mental and physical practice strategies that are oriented around the retrieval of skills under pressure.

It was a very different approach to practice, that not only made performing a more positive experience, but practicing a more enjoyable experience too (which I certainly didn’t expect!).

If you’ve been wanting to perform more consistently and get more out of your daily practice, I’d love to share these research-based skills and strategies that can help you beat nerves and play more like yourself when it counts.

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16 Responses

  1. Listening to inspiring music before my final graduation
    jury was probably the main reason (in my mind) I was able to give a
    powerful performance that was not inhibited by my nerves. The music
    happened to be the piece I was playing, for clarinet and piano,
    with the composer at the piano. I had just found the recording and
    with good headphones I listened to it while thinking about why the
    composer wrote the piece. This was a total revelation and actually
    moved me to tears before I had to go into the studio to play. It
    changed my mindset and I tried to imitate what I had just

  2. I always take a nap a few hours before an audition or big
    performance. And a good night’s sleep always helps! I always get
    too grumpy and tired if I don’t sleep enough. Being tired for a
    performance is one of the worst feelings.

  3. This is interesting and I would agree that it is definitely
    not a one size fits all methodology. As a jazz musician, I often
    find that the worst thing I can do before a gig is listen to a
    great improviser. I tend to listen to music that is nothing like
    what I will be playing. This relaxes me and then allows me to “flip
    the switch” when I go to play.

    1. I do that for lessons and when I sit down to write. I listen to music I love that inspires me to play/write, but that isn’t too like what I’m trying to do. If I listen to anything in the same genre, I run the risk of comparing myself poorly. I very recently froze myself up when I wanted to get a grip on a somewhat swing/jazz version of a Haendel piece and stupidly went to YouTube and searched on Art Tatum. Talk about demoralizing.

      Good vocally-centered music is always incredibly inspiring for me, be it Baroque opera of melodic rock.

  4. I remember reading somewhere (an article on neurobiology, I think) that the difference in brain activity between a fake smile and a real smile was like night and day. In truth, though the muscular contractions to produce both were largely similar, the neural organization from brain to muscles wasn’t.

    That fact has always stayed with me, because I find (as you did, too) that fake smiling is so uninspiring and exhausting. Sincere smiles and laughter bring us squarely into the present moment (whereas the fake kind get us to think too much about the future: “When can I finally be done with this laborious event?”) And I think that is absolutely essential for any kind of performer, whether in the arts or athletics.

    As you suggested, it is up to us to find whatever that thing is that best energizes us (and as you mentioned, it can be vastly different from person to person). But find it we must if we’re to perform closer to our potential. Thanks, as always, for a wonderful article!

  5. The morning before an exam or recital I run for 30 minutes,
    it helps me to eliminate anxiety, and then I drink a coffe with
    some funny friend, it relax me, and the most important is to get
    into the stage with a biiig smile, it relax you and your

  6. I am preparing a Benefit Concert to honor my late husband.
    During my hour-long drive to my rehearsal this morning, I put in a Victor Borge CD. I think the other motorists must have wondered what I was laughing at. I arrived with a smile on my face, and no groggy requests for caffeinated tea to get me started. It was a great rehearsal, and something of a turning point. Very much looking forward to the concert in…..12 days.

  7. I’ve read this study where subjects were divided into two groups, both groups were shown the same video clip. One group was manipulated to smile by being asked to hold a pen in between their teeth. The group that had a pen clenched between their teeth perceived the clip to be funnier than the control group (without the pen). Which probably means that we can manipulate our moods by forcing ourselves to smile (or frown, depending on the emotion you need to convey).

    I’ve never tried that out but I find that being mindful is a great way to uplift my spirit. Mindful meaning feeling grateful by counting my blessings – even the most trivial things can make me happy – being grateful to have all 10 fingers, a pair of legs, eyes that can see, a quiet practice room, unimpaired ears, a functioning instrument!

  8. A singer friend of mine once told me that, when performing on stage, he visualizes the audience split in two halves: one half hearing the music for the first time in their lives, the other half hearing it for their very last time-. This puts him into a state of mind of genuinely wanting to convey something important and meaningful to his audience, and takes away his self-consciousness and nervousness. -It seems to be his way of mood control.

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