Mental Focus and Focal Dystonia

Anxiety or nervousness is an involuntary response which shows that subconsciously or emotionally you are unwilling to carry out a task or perform a certain action. It exists even if you consciously know that you must carry out the task. However, by altering our mental focus, we can alleviate the fear related to Musician’s Focal Dystonia, and begin to return to the fun and enjoyment of playing again.

mental focus

An example of fear and mental focus

Imagine a plank of wood which is 20 cm wide and 5 m long. This plank is lying safely on the floor. The task is to walk from one end of the plank to the other without touching the floor. Would you experience fear, anxiety, worry, or nervousness in carrying out this task? More than likely not. Why? Because you have nothing to lose if you do it wrong – if you happen to place one foot on the ground.

Now, imagine this same plank of wood is being used as a make-shift bridge between two high-rise buildings, 50 stories up, with nothing but the pavement to cushion a possible fall. Do you feel as confident as before, when the plank was safely placed on the ground? Most of us would say no. So what’s changed? We have changed our mental focus. We have now perceived the situation as being potentially dangerous/life-threatening. We experience, anxiety, nervousness, and most of all: FEAR

Fear and Musician’s Focal Dystonia

To the best of my experience, fear exists as part of the emotional element of Musician’s Focal Dystonia in all musicians with the condition. The fear in Musician’s Focal Dystonia occurs when we focus on that which we want to avoid, rather, that which we want to feel or have happen. Therefore, if we can reverse this, and focus on that which we want to feel or have happen, rather than that which we want to avoid, we start to eliminate the fear element of the dystonia.

There are several ways of bringing our mental focus back to the fun and joy of playing the instrument, and away from the possible negative consequences of ‘doing it wrong’.

One way of changing your focus is by making a conscious decision. This decision can be, for example:

I decide to focus on the person I used to be when I was enjoying playing my instrument freely, rather than focussing on the person I became when playing the instrument became a chore/difficult/painful.

Another way of thinking about this is the Dr.Jekyll and Mr.Hyde analogy. You must decide from now on to only pay attention to Dr.Jekyll (positive neuro-associations and playing processes) and ignore Mr.Hyde (negative neuro-associations and playing processes).

There are many other tools and techniques we can use to remove fear and bring focus back to enjoyment in playing. These tools are best demonstrated during a 1 on 1 coaching session.


2 Responses to Mental Focus and Focal Dystonia

  1. Al January 6, 2016 at 6:20 pm #

    Hey Jon, let me start by saying I do not have focal dystonia. I am a guitarist but ever since learning of this rare and traumatic disorder I can’t play my instrument anymore without worrying “what if?” I’m not a classical guitarist and I don’t practice ridiculous hours during the day, but the hypochondriac in me is really worked up over the fear of FD. Any tips on ensuring myself that this never happens to me?

    • Jon Gorrie January 6, 2016 at 10:33 pm #

      Hi Al,
      Thanks for your question. This is primarily about focus – deciding to focus on what you want to feel and achieve while playing, rather than what it is that you want to avoid. I’ll send you an email with more info.
      All the best,