I Don't Feel Like Practicing; but I'm Gonna Do It Anyway

This morning I felt pretty tired, still recovering from yesterday’s race, so the thought crossed my mind, “Maybe I should take a little break, and skip recorder practice today”. Also, I hadn’t improved as much during the past week as I had planned and felt frustrated.

Franklin's soprano, alto, and tenor recorders

No effing way!

Thanks to a lot of great web sites and books out there on productivity and psychology, and advice from wise people from all walks of life, I’ve learned to watch very carefully for signs of loss of self-discipline and direction.

Jerry Seinfeld said, Don’t break the chain. If you want to get good at something and achieve a tough goal, you have to work at it every day, even if only a little bit a day. It is easy for our minds to wander and make up excuses to skip one day, to skip one practice. This applies to every aspect of life, not just matters such as music practice. It applies to whether to exercise every day, whether to write a blog post every day, whether to avoid eating cookies for a week.

Now, I don’t necessarily kick myself if in fact I really have to alter my planned schedule. Sometimes I’m sick and it’s better to sleep than to try to go for a run, or I have a respiratory ailment and don’t want to blow into a wind instrument.

But too many times I’ve seen people (including myself) make up excuses to not do something, and become so creative as to put off a “plan” for years at a time. Maybe there’s that book I always meant to read, but it’s yellow now since college and somehow I have “no time” for it. Or maybe I wanted to learn to draw, but kept on “needing” fancy paper and pencils. Or maybe I wanted to lose weight, but every day I make an “exception” and eat a side of fries or cup of ice cream. Or maybe I always “wanted” to learn to dance the samba, but mysteriously, my leg seems to be “injured” remarkably often every time I’m not eating ice cream and looking for pencils to buy.

What it comes down to is, you have to decide what is important, and act accordingly. What is important may not be what your friends think is important. It may not be what your spouse thinks is important. It may not be what your society thinks is important. But if you truly believe, then you have a stark choice: go ahead anyway, or quit. Do not go halfway. A wise sage said:

Do or do not. There is no try.

Yoda with light saber

Why waste time aimlessly practicing recorder only maybe once a week, and not getting anywhere at all, if I could spend that one hour doing something that I could find that I cared more about?

Applying the lessons to my life

So, the day I really committed to playing recorder, March 7 of 2011 (after starting to play the alto recorder on February 19 and informally practicing every day until the initial excitement wore off), I printed out a music practice log/journal, and vowed to practice every single day, indefinitely (as far as this was reasonable). I had decided to join the Pittsburgh chapter of the American Recorder Society, whose next meeting was March 20. I had two weeks to teach myself as much alto recorder as I could before the meeting. I attended, was warmly welcomed as a newcomer, and have continued to attend and participate in group playing, while getting lots of helpful advice from everyone there. The group is not too big, and is informal and friendly: I love how the communities for different hobbies of mine in Pittsburgh are so inviting. This city is just the right size for me. I’d feel lost living in New York or something, where there are a lot more things to do, more polish, more glamour, more hotshots, but also more distance.

I have missed probably an average of one day of recorder practice every two weeks. I can live with that. The point of the planned schedule is not, paradoxically, to rigidly stick to it. The point is to set a personal standard, a mind set, a reference point, an anchor. When I was twelve years old, I was struck by this quote:

Ah, but a man's reach should exceed his grasp, Or what's a heaven for?

I immediately interpreted this as meaning, if I want to achieve something, I must aim beyond it.

When I was learning karate several years ago, I was taught that when punching someone, aim to punch through him, and not just to hit the surface.

Because of inevitable uncertainties and setbacks, it is necessary to aim beyond where one wants to go, in order to get there.

So I picked up my recorder and practiced.


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