When he was in his teens, my husband was a competitive swimmer. For several events he was his country’s national champion. As an adult he continued to swim to stay fit, until just a few years ago when he switched to using a rowing machine. Recently he told a friend that one advantage to rowing is that since he only started recently, he can’t compare his times with something he could do in his 20’s. He was highly aware that, in the pool, such comparisons were constantly in his mind. Rowing lets him evaluate workouts based on his current progress, instead of some unachievable, and discouraging, standard.
Measuring our progress, comparing it to something we did in the past, can be a big pitfall. Constantly comparing yourself to others is discouraging enough. Comparing yourself to some imagined previous self is even more so.
Even those of us who weren’t musical prodigies still subject ourselves to negative comparisons: “I don’t learn as quickly as I used to.” “I’m never going to be as good a guitarist as I am a (woodcarver/cook/dog walker).” Make an active choice not to compare, not to measure. Just to what you set out to do today, and find as much enjoyment in it as you can.
Put It Into Practice
Listen to the thoughts that you have while you practice. Be attentive for comparisons to your previous progress:
- “I remember when I could play this scale at MM=120”
- “Wow, my voice cracks when I sing this now, I’m getting old!”
- “I sounded better yesterday.”
- “I used to pick this stuff up much faster, I’m sure.”
When you hear a thought like this, imagine yourself letting go of it, the same way you’d let go of a piece of trash. Make it very visual. Imagine the sensation of release. Then intentionally replace the thought with something positive. Again, make it as real as possible — even imagining a warm feeling filling you like you just got a big hug.
Have a few of these at the ready:
- “I’m working to evoke a feeling, not to be a speed demon.”
- “I love plenty of singers who don’t have perfect voices. People will love my singing, too.”
- “There are ups and downs to playing. That’s normal. It’s OK.”
- “I am enjoying myself playing this music. That’s what counts.”
There’s nothing wrong with having goals. My aikido Sensei* often says, “All human beings need hopes and dreams.” We all want to feel we’re growing and improving. But the time for setting and assessing goals is not in the middle of practicing. You’ll reach your musical goals faster when can train yourself to let go of these distractions.
- Shuji Maruyama Sensei, founder of Kokikai Aikido
Judy Minot is a musician and the author of the book Best Practice: Inspiration and Ideas for Traditional Musicians.
Judy has played and practiced piano since she could reach the keys, training in classical music until age 16. Judy spent her working life in broadcast television and digital marketing. She holds a 4th degree black belt in the martial art of Kokikai Aikido. Judy now gives workshops and classes on Best Practice ideas all over the U.S. and virtually, playing traditional music in various settings on a number of instruments.
For more information: www.judyminot.com/bestpractice