Every year like many, many others I set myself lots of New Years resolutions, perhaps going a little overboard when it comes to time scales and goals and what is humanly achievable.
My biggest challenge when it comes to teaching guitar to date, is getting my students to practice between lessons. I only see them for 30-60 minutes per week, this is enough time to run through existing theory and performance pieces and to cover their next steps. But where the improvement and ‘growth’ happens is the time spent practicing outside of lesson. However, how can I influence this which is seemingly outside of my control?
I have been recently researching motivation and habits to understand if there are some simple tools and tips which might strike a chord (ahem) with many students to help them in their routines outside of lesson.
Summarising here I believe these could be applied to any New Years resolutions – music related or otherwise! So when I am munching through mince pies this Christmas guilt free because I know I will drop two jeans sizes in January when I start my new year health plan – I will be looking to employ these steps to help make that goal a reality (well maybe one jean size !)
Like the meme of Rob Schneider in a straw hat shouting ‘You can do it!’, guess what? You can do it!
It is human nature to start to employ the ‘what if I fail’ mindset by introducing lots of excuses early on so we don’t feel too bad if and when we don’t succeed. But these excuses creeping in to the subconscious undermines your efforts and become a self fulfilling prophecy!
If you catch yourself doing this stop. Just picture the guy in the stray hat shouting ‘you can do it!’. Because you can.
I tell all my students, that they are a guitarist. You are what you do! If you are practicing guitar, then you are a guitarist. If you are writing songs then you are a song writer. There is no rule or arbitary duration** of performing an activity that means you move from not being a guitarist, to being one- as long as you start and keep going. You just improve- moving from a less experienced to a more experienced guitarist. (**ignoring any ‘self appointed bodies’ whose sole purpose is making money)
Time invested = better ability = increased confidence = increased enjoyment/reward = more time invested.
Why not make “I believe I am a guitarist” or “I believe I can do it” a self fulfilling prophecy instead ?
This is part of the belief process and how you see yourself- rather than thinking ‘I can’t play this – I’m not a guitarist’ you need to switch to thinking – ‘of course I can do it I am a guitarist – it just needs a bit more practice!’
Remember what Rob says: “You can do it!”
2. Process instead of Goal
Think about what your goal is and make sure that it is challenging but attainable. Set your goal then forget it and realistic timeline. Like me trying to drop 2jean sizes in January – probably too ambitious and setting my self up to fail. Think about what is just enough of a challenge but within reach for you to improve and gain confidence and move forward from there.
Once you’ve made decision then it is time think about the process and measure progress against this – not the goal. JUST FOCUS ON THE PROCESS NOT THE GOAL – accept that it takes time and effort to improve but remember comparing yourself to people that are much further ‘down the road’ from you isn’t healthy as there will always be someone else seemingly with all the attributes you desire- madness lies down this path. Just compare you to you.
If I want to improve at playing an instrument you need to set aside time to practice everyday. I need to build a positive habit.
How do I build a positive habit?
- Frequency is the key, not duration. Find a time in the day when you can sit with your guitar/uke/bass and just commit to 30seconds at a time. Just 30seconds!! The key is building the habit of sitting down with your guitar every day. Who can’t find 30seconds in a day?? The reality is when you think about practicing you can talk yourself out of it by over thinking it ‘I haven’t got time’ etc etc. Don’t overthink it- just set sit down and commit to 30seconds and that 30second will grow to a few mins one day, maybe 10-15mins the next. But the key is to build the habit.
- Say what you will do and when you’ll do it: Say it outloud / write it down on a week planner: “I will practice X at X time every day.”
- Set reminders and visual cues: Ask Alexa/ Google/Siri to remind you – 30seconds practice time. Leave your guitar out in view somewhere you see it- reduce friction to getting in to your new routine – leave your guitar and books out to remind you! I have guitars hung on my wall, partly to stop my children from breaking them but also so they are always within reach: I can walk in to my music room and practice in two seconds.
- Reward yourself for small successes: if you enjoy a morning coffee or evening glass of wine in the evening, build your habit in to that routine- “I’ll just get in 30seconds of warm up exercises / picking exercises/ scales etc etc then have that coffee / large glass of red 🍷”. Also print off a month calendar and tick off each day that you maintain the new routine- use this a visual reminder that you’re making daily progress.
- Cut yourself some slack: if you miss a day don’t worry, everyone has busy and off days. Don’t let yesterday’s misfire set in motion a negative streak. Tomorrow is a new day, get back on it tomorrow!
Finally this is the biggest motivator for me!
- Tie your new routine or process in with someone else’s that shares your goals.
- Arrange to meet up with friends to rehearse weekly, book classes, book exams, performances.
- Put some money on the line- day you’ll give your partner or friend (or charity) £10 every time you ‘miss’ – check out an App called Stickk – you can check in every week and set a referee to confirm whether you have stuck to your new goals- I have found this has helped me hugely in the past- little hit of money on the line and you find a renewed sense of motivation!
That’s it! Believe you can do it, focus on the process instead of the goal, and find an accountability partner or system that keeps you in track!
Do you have any thoughts or suggestion of what helps you stick to your New Years resolutions ? Please comment as I am always looking for tools and ideas to keep me and my students motivated and moving forward!
Good luck in 2019!