Goal setting, I’ve found, only gets me so far. Oftentimes, it gets in the way of actually getting anything done (I struggle to overcome paralysis by analysis).
I spend too much brainpower on goals that aren’t in line with accomplishing what I’m actually after.
To elucidate this thought, let me combine two schools of thought: one is that of the “shadow calling”, put forth by Steven Pressfield in his book Turning Pro. The other is the idea of the “super objective” from Constantin Stanislavski’s The Actor Prepares.
A “shadow calling” is something that distracts you from the work you should be doing. The following is an excerpt from Turning Pro:
“Sometimes, when we’re terrified of embracing our true calling, we’ll pursue a shadow calling instead. The shadow career is a metaphor for our real career. Its shape is similar, its contours feel tantalizingly the same. But a shadow career entails no real risk. If we fail at a shadow career, the consequences are meaningless to us.
Are you pursuing a shadow career?
Are you getting your Ph.D. in Elizabethan Studies because you’re afraid to write the tragedies and comedies you know you have inside you? Are you living the drugs-and-booze half of the musician’s life, without actually writing the music? Are you working in a support capacity for an innovator because you’re afraid to risk being an innovator yourself?”
A “super objective” is character’s main goal in life/the play. All of the smaller objectives-beat by beat, scene by scene-work together to achieve the “super objective”. In The Godfather, Michael Corleone’s super objective is to make his father proud of him
One of my primary “shadow callings” is a pre-occupation with getting as big and strong as possible. I don’t mean simply pursuing physical fitness, but rather, achieving actual powerlifting numbers: squatting and deadlifting 2.5/3x my bodyweight, and benching 2x my bodyweight.
Now, these are fine goals, but the way they occupy space in my brain is the problem. If I don’t check myself, they tend to be the end rather than the means. Improving your strength as part of plan to feeling great and having a matching physique is much different than being defined by numbers.
After all, what does it actually matter if I squat 505 lbs and deadlift 600+ lbs?
My “super objective” is not to be a powerlifter-it is to be an A-list operatic baritone and musician of incredible power.
Additionally, it was pointed out to me by a respected voice teacher that frequent use of the Valsalva Maneuver isn’t doing anything to make me a better singer.
It might not be detrimental…but it definitely doesn’t help.
The Valsalva Maneuver is the technique of holding breath in order to create abdominal pressure for spinal and thoracic support while lifting maximal or sub-maximal weight ie heavy squatting.
It was fun while it lasted:
You can reap the tremendous benefits of heavy compound lifting without near maximal percentages. By manipulating rep speed tempo, intensity (volume of work in a given period), and other such variables, you can still trigger release of Growth Hormone, strengthen your Posterior Chain, and develop a core that makes for a chiseled six pack without the Valsalva Maneuver.
That said, the pursuit of fitness is absolutely in line with my super objective. The combination of consistent healthy nutrition and resistance training
- boosts immune system
- gives me more energy
- enables me to be more active onstage
- improves brain function
- improves insulin sensitivity
- makes me look better in my costume and on stage
- improves confidence on stage and in auditions
- optimizes mind-body connection so I can engage the muscles needed and release what I do not need
- is a method of stress release without diminishing returns (such as, say, binge drinking).
- allows me to stay fit, energized, and confident in times of travel/times away from the stability of home base
Committing to an experiment in removing maximal/near-maximal weight from my training and eliminating the Valsalva Maneuver doesn’t comprise a big change. Rather, it is one that will focus on relative strength (numbers in relation to bodyweight) and muscle stimulation, as opposed to overall strength (how much total weight I’m moving). It will allow that much more time to focus on constant and controlled breath flow (much like the breathing patterns used in yoga, swimming, and running).
- Valsalva Maneuver likely isn’t detrimental to singing, but it certainly isn’t beneficial
- Maximal/near-maximal weight isn’t necessary to reap majority of benefits of compound lifts
- carefully consider why you do what you do, to make sure you aren’t wasting any efforts. Start here:
- building muscle is the fountain of youth and best way to make you look good on and off stage
- adapt or die
ps-I’ve long been a fan of Steven Pressfield’s work. His books Do The Work, The War of Art, and Turning Pro are excellent treatises on getting after it and making things happen. I also highly recommend The Warrior Ethos, and The Gates of Fire (which was adapted into the movie 300) and The Legend of Bagger Vance (the book is MUCH different than and far superior to the movie of the same name). Especially for fellow singers/creative types, I cannot recommend Bagger Vance enough.
pps- watch The Godfather.
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