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The Kairo's Code - an artistic performance psychological method

Nils Harald Sødal - mann i hvit skjorte ser inn i kamera
Nils Harald Sødal

When comparing the performing arts field with the sports field, it is noticable how the arts field has had very little focus on mental and psychological methods for dealing with perfomance anxiety the last few decades. Simultaneously, good psychological health is becoming increasingly challenging in the performing arts field. In his keynote, Nils Harald Sødal will talk about how mental and psychological techniques from high-performance sports kan be used by performing artists in order to affect their performance abilities, reduce anxiety and stress.

Summary

In the autumn of 2021, Sødal took part in conducting a survey aiming to map the mental and psychological state of Norwegian artists. The results showed that psychological health is an increasing challenge in the art field, and that the occurrence of anxiety and depression has become more prominent. Much can be attributed to two years of pandemic, but far from everything. Living as an artist and musician is challenging, both psychologically and mentally.

The paradox is that compared to other high-performing fields, the art field has been startlingly unconcerned with performance psychological issues. Mental and psychological methods and strategies for dealing with performance anxiety has not been a prioritized theme for artists. Hence artists have very few tools when it comes to coping with psychological blockages and mental strain.

In Sødal's PhD dissertation research at the Oslo Academy of the Arts, he collaborated with Olympiatoppen to develop an alternative performance psychological method. The method is called the Kairo's Code, which is an attempt at provididing an artistic approach to challenges related to performance anxiety, tension regulation, stage fright and other artistic problem areas. The key themes are described below.

Ownership/mine-ness

Developing one’s own aesthetic signature and unique artistic style founded in one's personality and inner urge to create, is crucial to success for artists. The greatest artists are usually those who dare to put a personal fingerprint on their work. The challenge is to find the tools that bring artists closer to their distinctive creativity, playfulness and expressive power, both in performance situations and in their daily work. Besides strengthening the artistic expression, such an ownership can serve as an important remedy when dealing with anxiety. A well- developed relationship with the self can make it easier to stand in one’s own shoes and be grounded in a fundamental self-experience.

Mental training connected to stress regulation and performance optimization

The art field has a scant tradition when it comes to working purposefully and systematically with mental and psychological mechanisms that are crucial when trying to perform under pressure. The Kairo's Code explores how psychological and mental skills traditionally associated with top sports can be applied by artists, and in what contexts strategies like these can reduce stress and anxiety and thereby improve artistic performance.

Momentary sensitivity

Staying connected to the moment is important in all forms of achievement. You don’t disturb a driver who has to take a U-turn on the highway. Olympiatoppen has for decades practiced what is called attention training. The idea behind with this form of training is to develop the ability to direct one’s attention towards the moment rather than towards the thoughts and mental images which always take us away from the moment and into the past or future. It is claimed that presence is about not losing focus, but this is an imprecise way of putting it. It is not possible to lose focus. The focus is always directed towards something – whether it is towards what is happening in the moment or towards our ideas related to the past and future. In the latter case, the consequence can be heavy emotions like fear, shame or bitterness.

About Nils Harald Sødal

Nils Harald Sødal has visited several European opera stages and garnered great reviews in renowned magazines such as Opernwelt and Opernglas. His debut at the world-famous Semper Opera in Dresden in 2012 was well received, and after an active freelance career, he became part of the Norwegian National Opera's solo ensemble in 2011.

In 2021, he defended his doctoral dissertation in performance psychology at the Oslo Academy of the Arts. Through a collaboration with, among others, Olympiatoppen, he interviewed several of Norway's top athletes and artists to get closer to an answer to what inhibits and what promotes good performance.

He is currently Professor II at the Faculty of Arts at University of Agder and head of department of research at the Oslo Academy of the Arts. In addition, Sødal is a critically acclaimed author with three novels behind him.

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