‘Sweat more in practice, bleed less in war.’ Spartan Warrior Creed
This is about taking a deep look at THE PRACTICE OF YOUR PRACTICE. The small acts you do daily can have a dramatic affect over a lifetime. These practice concepts are universal, and can be applied to any area you want to improve, from becoming a better drummer, businessman, father, golfer, or just living a deeper, more fulfilling life. LTR (Life Through Rhythm) is an attitude, an approach to life optimizing the connections between how we add value through our craft, and how we live everyday, merging our smallest actions to our larger vision.
What is the difference between a vision and a dream? Take a moment and think about the difference… is there a difference? There certainly is! A dream, although extremely desirable, is vague and cloudy. A vision on the other hand you can SEE clearly, experiencing it fully with all 5 senses, revealing a myriad of details. In his book ‘Think And Grow Rich’, Napoleon Hill writes about the effectiveness of having a ‘chief definite aim statement’, clearly writing out the vision you see for your future self in extreme detail.
‘Time is not on our side, but our choices are.’ Dom Famularo
What will get us there, is the quality and consistency of our daily practices. The actions that result from our choices and habits we do every day, can make or break our vision. During a long flight, a pilot never makes any drastic changes that would endanger the plane. Throughout the journey the plane is actually never precisely on course, but instead endlessly making tiny course corrections that eventually get the plane to its destination / landing on time. We are the same with our small daily actions, and these come from our habits. Most people overestimate what they can accomplish in 1 year, and underestimate what they can accomplish in 10.
Practice is an inner journey where we can grow into our untapped potential, overcoming challenges as we leave our comfort zone. We embrace the humbleness through what we see we don’t know, and confidence in hard earned skills forged slowly over time.
AWARENESS – MEASURE IT
The things that are easy to do, are also the things that are easy NOT to do. Measuring builds awareness, and awareness leads to better choices. One tool I’ve found to be extremely effective is keeping a practice journal. It only takes a few seconds to review the days plan, and to take a note after the practice of what I worked on, and my impressions. Because this is also easy not to do, this can get neglected, but over time this habit can build awareness, dramatically altering your destination. Recording yourself during practice and observing your movements with a mirror is also an easy step to skip, but if done consistently will deliver huge results! It can be a little painful to see so clearly what you are not good at, but this also builds awareness, and awareness over time leads to big results. You will also see what you ARE good at, and this will build confidence!
HABITS – THE 3MIN RULE
Take advantage of the massive power of the COMPOUND EFFECT. We don’t at first notice small increments done daily over time, but in the long run this can move mountains! In fact, mountains were created in this very way, sculpted over stretches of time from the slow shifting of the earth’s tectonic plates, and currents of water corroding rock over millions of years. Determined as you are, it is not your willpower that will tap into this power, but the momentum from your daily habits. Willpower is a well that runs out, but habits once installed are automatic, and over time actually become harder NOT to do, like brushing your teeth.
‘Don’t break the chain. Your only job is to not to break the chain!’ Jerry Seinfeld
When asked how he works on his craft, comedian Jerry Seinfeld responded he writes at least one joke a day, every day. Even if he doesn’t feel like it, even if he feels extremely unfunny. Every day means without missing a day, like building links to a chain. The job is not to come up with brilliance every day, or to carve out a huge amount of practice time, or to be perfect; the job is just to be consistent, to not break the chain. I call this the 3 minute rule; my goal is to not let a day go by without at least 3 minutes spent improving my craft. I really want to get 1 to 3 hours of focused practice in, but life gets in the way! This creates a lot of pressure, and pressure creates fear of failure, and fear turns into procrastination. Our brains are pleasure seeking machines, and we always want to work WITH nature, not against. By playing this game with myself (our brains also love games!), I am insuring that I will connect DAILY with my instrument. By firing those neurons every day, big things happen over a lifetime compounded. I used to think conversely ‘if I can’t get a good hour of practice in today, it’s better to wait until tomorrow when I have more time.’ The demands of the day quickly sabotage my good intentions, and I put it off some more… ‘the weekend is coming, I’ll have more time then’, and the perfect moment never materializes. The 3 min rule also ‘tricks’ my brain. If I’m tired or just don’t feel like practicing, there’s just no excuse: ‘I can do 3 minutes.’ But once I am behind the kit, sticks in hands, butt in the seat, a funny thing happens: the energy flows and the inspiration comes. Study the best in the world, and it’s a pattern that the work come before the inspiration, not the inspiration before the work. The 3 minute rule insures you will practice when you don’t want to, and after time this solidifies to habit. You have mastered yourself, and this is life’s most challenging endeavour.
FOCUS – DELIBERATE PRACTICE
The smartphone has a lot of great apps for musicians, but the best feature is the OFF button! Go into isolated tight focus. This is tough to accomplish for our novelty seeking brains because real practice is BORING, so get good at being bored. Kobe Bryant won’t leave the practice gym before sinking 300 shots, three HUNDRED. Going slowly over the fundamentals again and again, getting frustrated, feeling what we don’t know, making barely noticeable incremental progress, seemingly taking 5 steps back for one forward; this is not fun! The F Word is FOCUS, and it is a muscle. What are your goals, your vision for your future self? What are you setting out to accomplish today? These questions are from a place of deliberate practice, relentlessly zeroing in with laser focus on the essentials.
‘Play with Relaxed Intensity.’ Jim Blackley
Our STATE when we practice with intention is essential. Our brains record what we do repeatedly, whether it is correct or not. Practicing from the ego in a hurried, controlling way will actually SLOW DOWN the learning process, which has to be coaxed and romanced with patience. This is Power vs Force. There is great power in patience and surrendering to the process. It’s almost adopting an attitude of ‘not caring’, even though we care so much. This is the ying and yan, being so passionate about our craft that we have to let go of the result, which will get us closer to the result. Confused? I know! One of the many paradoxes of the journey. Don’t wait until the end goal to be happy, be happy first and you will get to the end goal a lot quicker! I think kids have got this a lot better than adults, so beware of becoming an ‘adult’! Kids have fun making mistakes, and have fun NOT knowing something. Playing in a rushed, anxious, angry, impatient state will only imprint this onto our muscle memory, and greatly slow down the learning process. Imagine going out to a garden and after tending the soil, watering the seeds, and yelling ‘grow!.. GROW!’ at the seeds! I love this short Zen story: ‘A martial arts student went to his teacher and said earnestly, “I am devoted to studying your martial system. How long will it take me to master it.” The teacher’s reply was casual, “Ten years.” Impatiently, the student answered, “But I want to master it faster than that. I will work very hard. I will practice everyday, ten or more hours a day if I have to. How long will it take then?” The teacher thought for a moment, “20 years.”’
DELETING – PRACTICE LESS
‘Make a choice, make it big, keep it tidy.’ Mark Bowden
What!? Practice LESS? We live an an age of more more more! All the information mankind has ever accumulated over thousands of years is now a screen’s touch away. By necessity, learning in the past was slower, and more focused on a single point. Our brains are just not designed to absorb an overload of information without processing it. I can remember attending the international percussion camp KOSA, with about 20 teachers and 80 students from around the world. I was inspired by all the styles I was seeing, Cuban, Indian, Jazz, Metal, Electronic, and more. I came back with tapes, books, notes, videos… I was hungry! I had a great plan to work on a different book every day of the week, to learn it ALL. This went nowhere fast! Working too hard on too much at once, actually SLOWS DOWN the learning. I love Bruce Lee’s quote, “I fear not the man who practices 10,000 different kicks once, but I do fear the man who has practiced one kick 10,000 times.” Working on less with a laser like focus, will forge a new version of yourself that you can only imagine. Saying yes to everything, means you are saying no to your vital few, becoming average at many things and great at nothing. I find that by practicing a maximum of 5 things over a 3 month period, this reels me in from my frenzy to learn everything all at once, which can actually slow down my learning. A passion to reach mastery can be a double edged sword. We need to find balance this need for growth with a paradoxical ‘not caring’ of the result. Drumming is just hitting things after all!
The practice of our practice is not only on our craft, but our life as a whole. This is our inner journey, which shapes our outer world. Let’s have fun in the process everyday, and get the most out of every moment. Don’t compete, create!