Category Archives: a cappella harmony

7 Ways to Build a Positive Culture in 2019 (Starting with You!)

pexels-photo-573238These are anxious times.  Tethered to our electronic devices, we are bombarded in every direction by negative images, stories, and conversations.  All that negativity puts us in a mental “threat” state and shuts down the learning centers of our brains.  Focusing on the negative contributes to feelings of stuckness, helplessness, and stress.

Conversely, focusing on the positive opens us up to insight, growth, and happiness. Positivity breeds possibility and broadens the scope of our world.  “Positive emotions flood our brains with dopamine and serotonin, chemicals that not only make us feel good but also dial up the learning centers of our brains to higher levels.” ¹

Creating a chorus culture of positivity begins with a commitment by each individual. Read the 7 strategies below to help you keep on the positive track in 2019.

Strategy #1  Develop perspective

It’s easy to get absorbed in one’s own problems and life challenges. Take your perspective outside yourself and think about the relative place your problems sit in the world. I am not suggesting that you invalidate how you feel or the struggles that you are having, only suggesting that you think broadly and see where your problems fall in the global picture.  Perspective can greatly lessen your personal feeling of hardship. Author Marianne Williamson said “Acknowledge…but don’t dwell.  There is a difference between denial and transcendence.

Strategy  #2  Narrow the scope of adversity

When #)$% hits the fan, think of the adversity as being temporary and isolated rather than turning that bad event into a sweeping condemnation of the entire world. Put some walls around it and examine it for what it is. See the bad times as phases or events instead of lifetimes.    As world events happen that disturb you step outside the event. Put that event in its rightful place – look at it instead of being in it.

Strategy #3  Flip Your Focus

Intentionally start paying attention to the “good” because where you put your focus determines what you see. What we think about expands.  It’s that simple. Where are you putting your focus? If on the negative, the lack, what is not working – FLIP your focus…and instead, focus on what is positive, what you want, that for which you are grateful.

 Strategy #4  Develop a Gratitude-attitude

Gratitude is good for your health. Gratitude boosts production of neurotransmitters dopamine and serotonin that help your neurons travel more easily to the feel-good centers of the brain.  The more you practice gratitude, the more established the feel-good neural pathway will become. Ask yourself “What am I grateful for today?” Challenge yourself to write down 5 things every day.

Strategy #5  Become the CPO (Chief Positivity Officer) of Your Life

It is important to proactively nurture a positive mental state.  Incorporate regular mental techniques into your life like setting daily intentions, power thoughts, developing a gratitude attitude, and using strategies to support mindful self-care.

Strategy #6  Decrease Negative influences

Make a conscious choice to manage your intake of the negative. Remove yourself from negative conversations. Turn off the TV news and read something positive before you go to bed. You get to choose whether you spend time in negative activities or ones that feed you.

Strategy #7 Empower yourself and make a choice

Manage your negativity by taking control of your thoughts. Check in to see what negative messaging you are giving yourself.  Awareness of what you are thinking is the first step, so learn to listen to your words, whether spoken or unspoken.  If your thoughts are negative, return to strategies #3 or 4 above.  As you focus on positive possibilities, you’ll find that positive energy follows.

¹Shawn Achor, author of The Happiness Advantage


The Benefits of Adopting a Growth Mindset in your Chorus

I have been talking a lot lately about the benefits of nurturing a “growth mindset” – both individually and in a group.  I have found this shift in mindset can have a profound impact on our highly-technical, highly competitive barbershop life.

In a fixed mindset, you believe that basic qualities, such as intelligence and talent, are fixed traits and you spend your life proving those traits. In this kind of mindset you believe that talent is what creates success, you set a bar of excellence that you are focused on achieving. You then measure yourself against that bar and are constantly judging how you have fared. You may be prone to holding others to your ‘bar’ as well and being judgmental of others when they (or you) don’t measure up.  A fixed mindset is about “PROVING”.

In a growth mindset, you believe that your basic ability can be improved through dedication and hard work, and that talent and brains are merely the starting point. A growth mindset is focused on getting better, on improvement and developing skills so that you perform better than you did before. A setback or failure is seen as an opportunity to grow.  A growth mindset is about “IMPROVING”.

The benefits of adopting a growth mindset are expanded creativity, innovation, resiliency, development, and performance as well as aiding in personal well-being, stress-reduction, inner peace, and contentment. In an organization, a growth mindset will help us tap into, capitalize on, and maximize the talents of our members to create a more positive and engaged organization. A growth mindset has a consistent generative focus on developing the skills to make things better.

How could you nurture a growth mindset in your chorus?  Send me an email at and I will send you a pdf checklist from my book, THE OVERTONE EFFECT, that shows you how you can foster a growth mindset in your chorus.


The Competition’s Over – Now What?

Getting prepped for competition requires an intense amount of work, commitment, emotion, time and energy, and when it is all over, whether or not you achieve your goal, there can be a profound sense of “let down”.  It is important to recognize and deal productively with this “let down” as it can reflect in individual and group apathy, drained energy, loss of focus, lack of motivation and uncertainty about the future. For the director,  these  “post-contest” symptoms may be further amplified by a feeling of responsibility both for what happened on the contest stage and for how the group is feeling.

Three Stages of Post-Contest Recovery

Stage One:  Reflection and Acknowledgment

It is important to openly acknowledge and allow expression of the feelings that you and your group may be experiencing (whether or not you achieved your competition goal). Emotions might be wide-ranging and contradictory. Share with the group how you are feeling. Allow yourself to be vulnerable, and real.

When a goal has not been met there is often an initial reaction of searching for a reason that may result in blaming something or someone else outside oneself.  This is part of the grieving process and precedes the stage where we accept personal responsibility and begin to move forward. This is a time, as a chorus leader, that we must take a deep breath and not take our members’ comments personally.  Listen to them, consider them, but don’t dwell on them – there is a difference between denial and transcendence. Recognize that you also need to process and be sure to give yourself adequate nurturing time and space to replenish your energy.

Stage Two:  Acceptance and Ending

According to the ”transition model” coined by author William Bridges, one must adequately “end” something to have a new beginning.  We must let go/or leave behind where we were in order to move ahead. We must be cognizant that everyone in a group may be transitioning at different paces and as director, we must understand that although we may be mentally and emotionally ready to move on to the next great thing, our chorus members may not be.

There are two key questions to ask both ourselves and our chorus members in the “ending phase”.

1/ What is it time for me to let go of right now?  (Be sure to spend enough time on this first question. Our tendency is to want to move forward without properly grieving.)

2/ What is standing backstage, waiting to make its entrance?  (This second question is critical to follow the first.)

The key point about then ‘letting go’ is to mark the ending officially and be sure not to rush through the ending. Until you complete  – you won’t move into the future as successfully (or as quickly).

Stage 3:  Re-ignition and New Beginnings

When you think of new beginnings, be sure to build on your past successes. What worked about the journey that just ended?  What might you want to build on? What were the elements that contributed to your success? Remember those elements, because they form the foundation upon which your future can be built.

When you plan the exciting things for your future be sure to keep your thoughts and discussions very firmly in the what you WANT for the future rather than what you DON’T want.  Before you set specific chorus goals, re-ignite your and your group’s passion by creating a forum to hear everyone’s voice as they dream of the future possibilities without limits. What is their biggest future vision?  What is yours? What feels connected and aligned with the chorus vision?

Remember: Achieving a goal is a finite moment in time. Success is a journey, not a destination.

The Power of Intention – Living on Purpose

I spend each December with my a cappella quartet, Fandango, performing throughout Vancouver.  On a particularly cold and rainy day this year we were tired, and not getting the reaction we wanted from the preoccupied shoppers.  We started feeling a bit grumpy – so we took a break to recalibrate.  We chatted and said “OK, let’s create an intention to really focus on connecting from our hearts with each person that walks by”.  We started caroling again, holding that active intention in our minds.  Incredibly, every person walking by shifted from aloof to engaged – smiling, involved, reacting.  That’s the power of intention.   We didn’t “do” anything different – we simply held a mental “intention” or purpose.

Intention is a mental tool that focuses your attention which in turn shapes the structures in your brain. When we act with intention we act with purpose. Considering, and then adding intention to an action or situation creates a different level of consciousness and sets energy in motion to get the results you want. 

You can apply the Power of Intention to any part of your life and supercharge your year, your day, or a specific activity or conversation.

Creating Magic - Female open hand appearing to send out a stream of sparkles and glitter on a golden and black flowing background


1/ Holding an Annual Intention

Supercharge your year by holding a single intention or purpose for it.  Think of this as your annual “Theme”. Get away from the list of “goals” and “resolutions” and create one or two words that will be the foundation for your year.  Keep your theme present throughout the year (write it down, put it on a post in note on your office wall or fridge, add it as your screen saver).  Notice how approaching the year with your theme in mind will inform what you “do” without you even thinking about it.

2/ Creating a Daily Intention

Focus and supercharge your day by spending a couple of minutes in the morning to think about that day’s intention. What will the day be about? Is it joy? Is it connection? Is it efficiency?  By simply mentally focusing back to that intention throughout the day, you will feel an energetic shift in results (all without you having to actually do anything different).

3/ Being an Intentional Leader

How you show up as leader has a dramatic effect on a group atmosphere and holding a clear intention will shape results.  Experiment with holding a single intention for a day at the office – or a meeting – or a rehearsal.  e.g. / “Today is about spreading joy”.  “Today is about teamwork”. “Today is about respect”.   Write out your intention, and refer back to it. It doesn’t matter what the specific activities of your day are, you will be approaching them with a different underlying intention. One simple thought will focus your energy and makes things shift.

4/ Being Intentional in Conversation

Think about being intentional in an important conversation.   As an example – consider the age-old conversation you have with your teenager when they forget to phone and tell you that they will be coming home later than expected from the party. What if the intention you held for that tricky conversation was “love and respect” for your teenager? You don’t need to think about changing what you are going to say. Your words and your tone automatically will change if you change your intention. Imagine how differently your teen might hear “Tommy, I need you to call me if you are going to be late” if your intention is to show how much you love and respect him.

5/ Being Intentional about a Specific Activity or Event

Being intentional for any activity or event has a powerful focusing effect on the experience and its outcome. As an example, let’s take the dreaded “networking” event.  What might happen if you held a mental intention of “connecting” with people instead of “getting business”?   How might your actions change as a result?  Intention gives us a sense of control and allows us to “create” our conditions vs. simply “reacting” to them.  Instead of life “happening to us”, we are shaping it.


Top 3 Ways You Can Supercharge Your Rehearsal Experience in 2018


Being intentional when you perform or rehearse has a powerful focusing effect on the experience and its outcome.  Considering, and then adding intention or purpose at rehearsal creates a different level of consciousness and energy. Adding intention fires off neurons in the brain that sets energy in motion to achieve/or give you the result.   Intention gives us a sense of control. We are “creating “our conditions vs. simply “reacting” to them.  Instead of rehearsal “happening to us”, we are shaping it. Wow!

How: Before you begin each rehearsal, think about what your intention will be for that rehearsal.   Is it spreading joy? Is it having fun? Is it being confident? By simply focusing back to that intention throughout the night, there will be an energetic shift (without you having to actually do anything different).  You can also consciously add intention and purpose to a single action – to a musical passage, a song, or even a Choreography move.  Experiment with this, and feel the difference intention makes!


Being present at rehearsal means more than just physically showing up.  It means eliminating all mental interference so you can be fully and mindfully present in each moment of your rehearsal.  Why do we care?  Well – being present in each moment allows the space for the most inspiration and grounded energy, creative flow and performance connection.

How:  This will take some practice, as there are an infinite amount of external and internal interferences to take us out of the present moment.  First step is to let go of any mental interference getting in the way of your being able to be 100% present.  Stuff in your head before rehearsal?  Leave it at the door!  Interference happening during rehearsal?  Say “How Fascinating” and allow yourself to defer the thoughts for later.  Re-focus to your director.  Re-focus to your breath. The point of power is in the present moment! RIGHT HERE, RIGHT NOW!


This is why we rehearse. To learn.  To improve.  To grow.  Even our Queens of Harmony agree that chorus rehearsal is about improving their craft.  Yet how quickly we revert to our “judging” mindset when perhaps we sing a wrong note, run out of air, miss a choreo move etc.   At rehearsal, we want to adopt a growth mindset and show up as a learner to open up creative possibilities.  Our journey to personal mastery is a lifelong process.  If we have finished learning, we are dead.

How: Accept that your skill level right now is merely your starting point – and that you are at rehearsal to improve.  Mark your starting point so that you can measure each small increment of improvement. When we show up as a learner, we are in effect saying we do not know everything; that we are open and willing to grow.  The pressure lifts and the space opens up when you relieve yourself of the burden of having to know everything. Think of mistakes as opportunities to improve instead of self-judging failures that shut down your mind

Adopt the mantra “I am a Learner” and feel how your rehearsal experience positively shifts.


The Competition’s Over – Now What?

Check out the article I wrote that is printed in the latest SAI Pitchpipe and be sure to  bookmark it for future reference – you will need it!

The Competition’s Over – Now What Pitchpipe Feb 2014



Jan Carley, Inner Coach of Barbershop


Interference Management – What’s your level of mastery?

The only thing predictable in any SAI competition is the unpredictable. Despite our best efforts to reduce and eliminate all external interference, it is rare that we get through any competition experience without some unplanned occurrence.

The salient difference-maker when confronted with the inevitable interference (you know what I mean – buses late, traffic patterns bunching up, a suddenly ill chorus member) is not the interference itself, but how you handle the interference.  We cannot control circumstances, we can only control our reaction to those circumstances. We are the only thinkers in our own minds. Developing an A+ level of Interference Management Mastery will positively influence your performance experience and results.  

I had the fascinating volunteer job of working in the traffic pattern at our recent Regional competition and got to witness first-hand the varied mental state of all of the directors and choruses in the warm-up area after they experienced delays in the traffic pattern.  

Leaders:  When you do your competition planning, consider your mindset mastery level. Prepare your reaction to the inevitable interferences because your chorus will follow your modeling example.  Pre-plan the ways that you will refocus and support your chorus to refocus so that it becomes second nature.   Acknowledge the interference,  and make the choice then to let that interference go.  Take the lead in communicating with and encouraging your chorus members to do the same.