There is no question that we all are creatures of habit. The only question is whether our habits are intentional or accidental, whether they propel us forward or hold us back from the future we deserve.
From a scientific viewpoint, a habit is merely a triggered response that has become automatic. What I find interesting is this: the power of the habit lies in the trigger. If you’ve ever tried to break a habit, you know what I mean. You want to eat fewer calories, but you always order fries with your burger. You want to stop smoking, but you always smoke with a cup of coffee. You want to watch less tv, but that’s what you always do after dinner.
In order to change those habits, you have to resist your usual response to the trigger and create a new response. Yes, that’s much easier said than done, but we do have a secret weapon: focusing on the result that we desire, the benefits that our new habit will bring to us.
This is the same strategy that dieters use when they post the photo of the fit athlete on their refrigerator. It’s like looking into your future, if you can stay focused.
Obviously, our most important music habit is the practice habit. But there are a few other habits common among musicians that can sabotage your best efforts. My suggestion is that you think about the results I’ve listed for each habit. What results do you want? What response are you willing to change to get those results? What will your new response be?
Habit #1: The Tuning Habit
Accidental habit: You tune the harp when you notice it needs it.
Result: Tuning is more disruptive in your practice and it takes longer.
Intentional habit: Tune the harp daily, or weekly or twice a week.
Result: You train your ear, train your harp, and learn to tune more quickly.
Habit #2: The Review Habit
Accidental habit: You occasionally pull out some pieces to review.
Result: You waste time trying to find the music and deciding what to review. Then you end up playing the same pieces you played last time.
Intentional habit: Have a regular “play day” to review repertoire.
Result: You will keep more pieces in your fingers, and you’ll be ready to play if an opportunity comes along.
Habit #3: The Technique Habit
Accidental habit: You do exercises, scales and arpeggios when you have time.
Result: Things that wait “until you have time” rarely get done.
Intentional habit: Plan out a rotation of scales, arpeggios and exercises, with a specific portion to work through each time you play.
Result: You develop a well-rounded technique and keep it in shape painlessly.
Habit #4: The Sight Reading Habit
Accidental habit: You only sight read when you have to.
Result: It’s scary, and the quality of the outcome is questionable.
Intentional habit: Include sight reading in your practice at least once a week.
Result: You will be more comfortable sight reading, and you will play more of the right notes at the right time.
Habit #5: The Repetition Habit
Accidental habit: When you can’t get something right, you just do it over again, hoping it well get better.
Result: You get bored and frustrated when there’s no progress.
Intentional habit: Fix the issues using targeted practice techniques.
Result: The rough places are smoothed out in a fraction of the time and you see the progress you’ve made.
You may not want to change any of your habits right now. But if this post has inspired you to try, share your old and new habits in the comments below. I’ll be cheering for you!