Freeway Music — Columbia, SC’s Premier Music School

What’s Better Than Motivation?

By Elvin Boone

What’s Better Than Motivation?

You just finished your first big show, showcase, private event etc., and it was a roaring success. Everyone has stopped you and told you how amazing you were. Some folks have even been specific, “when you played that solo…” and the show afterglow is all around you. Then you get home, and the next day feel the same. But the feelings of all that adoration fades, slowly perhaps, but still it goes away. Is it always the next big thing that you’re reaching for? Yes, probably. That’s part of the daily chase to become more, achieve more, reach your highest artistic potential. You might experience a piece of the happiness, musical actualization, and personal fulfillment in reaching a goal, but it’s really in the daily process of achievement that you will find perpetual satisfaction and joy.

How do you keep up the daily practice that’s required to reach the next musical milestone or pinnacle? How do you foster the type of motivation that you need to reach those lofty goals? It’s not the final goal that is going to keep you practicing every day. It’s not the huge wins that make you pick up the instrument, or sing obsessively. It’s seeing your own progress every single day and enjoying the work of becoming better and better. Success, especially small daily wins, in any area of life, is how sustainable motivation is created. Accomplish one thing today and you are happy about today and that motivates you to accomplish more tomorrow.

Enjoy the small victories. Did you learn that riff or that trill or that fill that you’ve been working on for three days? Celebrate. Did you figure out how to play triplets in one measure of that piece that yesterday still seemed too fast for you? Celebrate. And on and on you’ll go with a certainty that you’ll be able to appreciate your own process and reach those huge goals.

Break yourself of the putting off  celebrating progress until “someday”. You might think that it’s okay to constantly think that “someday” you’ll be/do/have, but it’s not going to help you get there. Yes, it’s extremely important to have big dreams, and to stretch yourself beyond limiting beliefs, but you shouldn’t focus on the gap between where you are and want to be.

That’s one of the major reasons people fail. They spend all of their time comparing themselves to others’ success instead of figuring out their own path to personal achievement. How many times have you heard one of your musical inspirations play and instead of thinking, “What did they practice every day to become that amazing?” you thought, “I’ll never be able to…” The truth is that everyone is able to accomplish a lot more than they think, but it takes a different approach to daily practice and motivation.

The Competition Trap

If you’re like many people, then you are constantly comparing yourself to other musicians. This can potentially become the opposite of motivation. It doesn’t have to be that way though; you could compare your progress with where you were musically yesterday. You could become better than you were yesterday, and one day you may look back and realize that you’re nearly as good (or better) than your favorite artists.

Try it for a week. Write down where you are every day and then tomorrow write down how you’ve improved. In a week you’ll see your daily improvements and be able to see how practice is paying off. Also, while competing with yourself everyday instead of people who’ve already been playing for 30 years, you’ll remove that crippling fear of “never being good enough”.

Shift Your Focus

You have to imagine the big goal, “forget the goal” and focus only on the process. Here’s another way to consider this idea—did you get to work/school/the game on time this week? Why? The answer is simple—you have a routine. You’ve created a routine where you get up at certain time and get to where you need to be at a certain time. This can be applied to reaching your musical goals as well, but will mean that you create a way to hold yourself accountable.

You don’t wake up every morning and think, “I have to get to work or school on time or….”, no, you just do it. You don’t think about the goal of what a high school or college degree will mean for you when you go to class every day. You just go to class, and focus on one day, one assignment, one paper, one reading, at a time. It’s the same with sports. You might imagine winning the game this Saturday, but Monday through Friday you’re out there doing the work and getting to practice on time. This is also true of becoming the best musician possible.

Back to focus and how it can possibly derail your progress. If you want to save $10,000 (or a million) and you start by setting aside $10.40 every week, you’ll start feeling pretty defeated immediately because you’ll constantly compare the goal with where you are right now. When you’re thinking about finishing a degree, and you only have two classes out of 200, you may think you’ll never finish. These might seem like trivial examples, but they’re not. These are just two examples of countless goals people never reach because of the comparison trap.

Don’t allow the comparison of where you are, and where you want to be to demoralize you. Stop measuring the distance between your present and your future. Instead, create the big goal, figure out the daily practices you need to do to accomplish the huge goal, forget the big goal for now.

Goals and Processes

Simply put, a goal is the end result, and a process is the daily action that moves you towards that goal. Daily routines are the path to success. Goals are the, well, the GOAL, but to get there you have to forget the big picture and hone your skill, your craft, your voice. You may also hear people talk about SMART goals, which means Specific, Meaningful, Attainable, Realistic and Time bound. While this structure might be excellent for businesses, it’s not necessarily going to help you achieve your big dreams. I add this here because it’s something that may get in the way of true progress. Your goals really shouldn’t be explained in some group of letters describing words that will most likely bog you down in wondering if learning to play Tchaikovsky’s Violin Concerto in D Major is “meaningful”.

First, you allow your goal of playing lead violin to create your process. Next, you prevent decision anxiety by following a daily routine. Maybe you get up 15 minutes earlier and practice every morning, or 30 minutes before dinner every night. It doesn’t have to be grueling; you’re just trying to create a routine to create a habit. If that routine isn’t working, then adjust it, instead of 15 minutes, get up 45 minutes earlier in the morning and go to bed earlier at night. You’ll know when the best time for you to practice and make progress.

This is similar to that of triathlon training. You start with two miles this week, then 2.5 next week and so forth. Incremental progress will yield the greatest results in the long run. You may need to change your routine to accommodate the new practice schedule, re-evaluate your daily plans to make doing the work every day as natural as possible.

You may consider breaking your day down into 30 minute blocks to plan your practice, and learn. Here, I would caution you to make sure to plan for down time, and time to really rest and recover. Try each routine for at least a week, and then change it according to your best results. This might be one of the most important parts of achieving your goal. Creating a solid routine that you can follow throughout the year is essential to sustainable growth.

In Summary

In Summary

  1. Imagine your large vision or dream
  2. Form your goal
  3. Make yourself accountable to attaining the goal
  4. Construct a daily process to reach your goal
  5. Practice your process every day while forgetting the large goal

Your dreams, big or small, are the some of the greatest things that you can strive towards—you can find a way to reach them if you make progress every single day on what matters most.

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