Last Thursday, I cheerfully rocked up to my piano lesson, patted the dog, recovered my scattered music from the floor where I dropped it, got settled on the seat, rearranged my skirt, searched for my pen, wiped my nose, and finally I was ready to start. With great aplomb, I turned to my long-suffering piano teacher, prepared to launch into a barrage of excuses explaining why I hadn’t practiced. Did I just see him roll his eyes? As the first words left my mouth, it hit me. Like a broken record, I recite the same lame excuses every week. I closed my mouth and left it at, “I didn’t practice.”
As I wandered home, I got to thinking, why don’t I practice? I decided to search for answers.
General to specific
The first thing I noticed when I sat down to practice, hands poised above those black and whites, was that I didn’t know where to start. My goal was, ‘to practice the piano’. This was far too general, and flipped me into overwhelm. I needed precise goals tailored for each session, such as work only on those tricky chord changes today. However, this specificity highlighted a new problem.
How do artists like the Rolling Stones play the same songs for over 40 years without going bonkers? I got unbelievably bored playing “Imagine” by Lennon over and over again. My emotional brain checked out and started seeking new stimulation. If I was going to have any luck getting myself to stay at the piano, I needed to engage this part of my brain. To learn how to do chord changes with the right hand while playing different rhythms with the left, conventional wisdom would advise practice drills. Instead of this tedious method, I started playing any song that popped into my head. Suddenly I was fully and utterly engaged. I felt my left and right brain pulling together in harmony as I worked to make music. It was fun, challenging, rewarding and fulfilling. And without realising it, I was practicing and making incredible progress.
Who said fun things can’t happen first?
The final challenge was to turn piano practice into a daily habit. Rationally, the best time to practice was at the end of a working day. But each evening at 8pm I turned into a couch potato, too tired to move. I got to thinking – I am a morning person, what if I practiced after breakfast? Are we allowed to do something so frivolous before work!
Here’s what happened when I started practicing at 6.30 am. The quality of the practice was off the chart, improvement was tangible, and the joy I experienced motivated me to practice again later in the day. But there was an additional, unforeseen payoff. My brain became so switched on after 30 minutes of piano practice, that my work productivity increased dramatically.
At last I am starting to practice more diligently and, with my new insights such as Goal Specificity, Beat the Boredom and Fun First, other areas of my life are improving as well. I can’t wait for next Thursday’s lesson where I will delight my teacher with my musical breakthrough.
Looking for methods to break free of bad habits?
Learn more about working with life coach and ADHD coach Jacinta Noonan here.