Give Up Your All or Nothing Attitude!
Our modern society praises quantity over quality, most of the time. Don't believe me? Extreme fitness is actually a trend- pushing the body to get through a series of reps (no matter what), to run a certain distance, to get through a bikini boot camp, achieve a certain yoga pose, or eliminate large groups of food to lose weight, cleanse, etc. (Multiple week Juice Fast, I'm looking at you!) There's a sense that if we want to accomplish something in fitness-land, it has to be extreme, hard, or we shouldn't bother at all. This does transfer into music, believe it or not.
Some people have an all or nothing attitude in music- I have to accomplish tasks x,y, and z, and practice for K hours, no matter what, or I won't bother practicing at all. (In yoga and fitness, that logic might be, "I need to do a full practice/workout, or I shouldn't do anything at all.") Or something along the lines of, if I don't get through a whole list of excerpts, or whole piece, then I haven't accomplished anything at all. Or if I don't win an audition/competition, then I failed. We have this attitude that there is failure and perfection, and no in between space, both in the practice room, the gym, and the competitive circuit.
The truth is that small actions, small steps, or small amounts of practicing do add up, even if it doesn't look like a 1.5 hour full body workout, or long practice session. Walking a few miles a day might not appear to be a workout to some, but it is an essential whole body movement which can yield great payoff. Practicing in small increments when you're really focused and aware can have the same reward. Taking auditions and competitions can be beneficial even if you don't win.*
In a masterclass a few years ago, violist Roberto Diaz said that he never practiced for large amounts of time anymore. This wasn't because he didn't want to, but because his schedule was too busy and he had a young child, who demanded his constant attention. He instead set a timer for 10-15 minutes when he had time, set a goal, and did his best to accomplish that task. While you may not be strapped for time in the same way, how can you get quality movement and quality practice in your day? How can you have a more forgiving approach towards your work, music-making, and exercise? Maybe it means getting off the subway one stop earlier and walking for 10 minutes, or practicing technique for 10 minutes before a rehearsal. Maybe it means taking an audition that has terrible odds, but is your dream job. Maybe it's doing 10 minutes of yoga or meditation or lunges or squats (or whatever your thing is!) when you can. Where is this all or nothing attitude permeating your music-making and your approach to practice and success?
Success doesn't have to be running a marathon or winning a big audition* and changes don't have to be extreme to have huge benefits in your life.
*And if you want more on this idea of redefining success, I highly recommend Carol Dweck's book, Mindset. It definitely gives a larger context to auditions, competition, and perceived failure.