Welcome to the final part of this series - I really appreciate you taking this journey with me! Today we will continue our investigation of remedies, so let's jump right in.
Coming back to the present moment.
We often hear about the amount of hours certain well known players practice each day - the length of time. Interestingly we almost never hear about the depth of time - the QUALITY of time invested to achieve the best possible outcome. The key ingredients to quality time are focus and concentrated effort, i.e. focusing intensely on the one element you are practicing in this moment and practicing the critical element(s) that are most relevant for what you want to be able to play.
The challenge in developing the ability to focus intensely, is the mind's tendency to constantly jump to imagined future scenarios, dwell on past memories or get lost in repetitive thought patterns... If you don't know what I'm talking about right now it is due to a lack of awareness about your thought processes.
To get out of the minds tendency to jump, we first have to be aware of what our mind is doing, otherwise we will simply be dragged along and won't even realize it. We have to practice to witness our thoughts without getting identified with them all the time.
This leads us to two steps to deepen the quality of our practice:
1. Develop and expand the awareness of our thoughts (simple exercise in Part II
2. Practice "Re-focusing", i.e. constantly bringing our mind/concentration back to the present moment whenever we notice that our minds have drifted.
Don't see it as a another item to practice, but simply as another layer, which ensures your practice gets deeper over time - as it does, you will get better results.
At first it will be a constant switch between being focused for a short while, getting lost in thought and bringing our awareness back, but you'll get better from day to day. Don't be discouraged if it varies depending on your mood, lack of sleep, etc... This is normal, so don't beat yourself up. Just strive to do your best each time to increase the quality of your practice.
Periods of high focus have certain characteristics that help us gauge the quality of our practice. Here are some signs that you can check for:
Loosing track of time and a feeling of total immersion
Feeling of ease, quiet and relaxation
Absence of boredom
A deep but subtle joy
Sense of heightened physical and mental awareness
These feelings are highly pleasurable and the more you experience and thereby unconsciously link them to your "thoughts about practice", the less discipline you will need. In time you will associate practice with a joyous feeling and be looking forward to it instead of resisting it.
Set a goal AND fall in love with the process.
I've learned a lot about goal setting and constantly use it myself, but when I do some research on the topic, I often get the feeling that many people fall for the assumption that you can either:
A. Set goals and work hard each day to reach them.
B. Enjoy your life.
You don't have to choose. You can have both! In fact, you NEED both or you'll become burned out and hate the process. Here's the best definition of goal setting that I found so far:
Goals: An organized way to enjoy my day!
Isn't that wonderful? Goals are great because they give you a sense of direction - you don't set them to stress you out! Without a goal you might dabble with something for a while then dabble with something else, never getting the results you want and wondering why you are not getting better...
The more clearly you can define the technique(s) you want on the instrument, the better, because you can then set a goal as a flag on the horizon, you can determine the steps you need to take to get there and - measure your progress on the way to fuel you!
I once heard Zig Ziglar bring up a great example in relation to goal setting: Suppose you could speak to Sir Edmund Hillary, the guy who was the first to climb Mount Everest and ask him: "Mr. Hillary, how come you made it up to Mount Everest as the first human being in history?"
How likely would this reply be? "Well, you know, I was just strolling around, taking a walk and suddenly - Damn! I was on top of that thing!" Paraphrased.
It makes us laugh, still we often behave like that. We don't have a specific outcome in mind - thus can't create a path leading to that outcome - and then we wonder why we ended up in some random place, labeling ourselves untalented, failures etc... It makes no sense.
Clearly defined goals are a huge help, because without a compelling goal it is difficult to stay inspired. Setting a goal is like planning the destination of a journey, but we also need is appreciation of each step of the journey itself. If you're constantly focusing on "getting there", dismissing and using the present moment only as a means to an end - you're missing your life and you'll never be content. So, I encourage you to have both, a goal and joy in the present moment!
I hope you've enjoyed reading this article series as much as I loved writing it. Being the author of these articles doesn't make me a master of all the topics I have mentioned. As with all practice in life - some days I succeed, others I fall flat on my face - but that doesn't really matter! It's all part of the joyful process of discovering more about ourselves!
I wish you the best - in music and in life!
About the Author:
Derek Steep is a songwriter, composer, performer and recording artist. In addition to the study of various instruments he has been immersed in different schools of eastern thought and brings this perspective to various aspects of musical practice. You can find his music, articles and blog at www.TheMimicryOfShadows.com.