I wanted to share this from James Clear’s Friday emails:
“Improvement is a battle that must be fought anew each day.
Your next workout doesn’t care how strong your last one was.
Your next essay doesn’t care how popular your last one was.
Your next investment doesn’t care how smart your last one was.
Your best effort, again.”
I relate to this because although knowledge and mastery of a piece can develop away from the instrument, ultimately, the wrestling, the refining, and the craftsmanship is consistent work.
Sometimes, I’m working out and I ask myself – why is it still so painful? And that’s wrong. It’ll always be painful because I’m pushing myself. There are easy workouts, just as there are easy pieces of music and less deliberate practice. But it ought to be painful because I’m giving my ‘best effort’ everyday.
I feel incredibly creative and motivated when I have buffer time. Buffer time includes train or bus rides where I have no choice but to sit and wait. Or when I was in quarantine. The parameters of buffer time include an unexpected or expected large X amount of time where they’re physically and logistically in limbo.
It allows for reading, listening to podcasts, reflecting and thinking, blogging, creating social media posts.
What buffer time, when used wisely – having a window seat helps immensely with creativity and joy – allows for the brain to feed. Often, our brains are geared towards output and processing, in the case of work and practice. Or the brain is involved in managing movement and mediating between the conflicts of pain prevention and pain absorption (as in the case of workouts). Or it’s forming language and articulating ideas, balancing various emotions and intuitive senses as one holds a conversation.
It’s not often the brain is left simply to eat in peace. The ever changing visual stimuli of being on a vehicle is unimportant and rudimentary. The brain feeds lightly on what is entering the brain through the speakers – yet it knows that it does not have to engage fully in response. Sometimes ideas can be observed in various perspectives like a glass prism. Other times, it can feed, sit back, soak in the sun, and chill out.
Surprisingly, this is when the brain is able to come up with pretty excellent ideas. It’s the force of not having to try too hard that allows for soft whispers of revelations in the breeze.
Thus, the crazy idea for today isn’t to give your brain any particular demand. Give it that train, bus, or plane ride (if possible), or even a leisurely walk. Sit by a window and watch people walk by. Being momentarily and intentionally unproductive can lead to some pretty interesting things!
Get inspired with documentaries. Get inspired by how real people, not fictional characters, overcome adversity, find solutions, and seek that victory. Get inspired by knowledge, by story, and by fellow human beings doing the best. They suffer like you and me. They worry, get frustrated, become unmotivated and uninspired. Watch documentaries like The Last Dance to see how our heroes became our heroes.
Even if the next day is depressive, slow, and painstaking, at least you’ll be armed by stories, anecdotes, and the right ideas to fuel that battery – emotional, spiritual, and physical.
How do we make music competitions a positive and nurturing experience? How do we navigate through the competitive, win-lose, and often tortuous nature of these contests? On top of that, how can jury members, organisers, and the administration ensure that competitors will WANT to come back because they’re able to get so much value out of the competition?
That is the challenge I want to tackle. I’ve been asked by a really good friend to collaborate on a competition. My first thought was: how can we distinguish ourselves from all the other thousands of competitions? Prize money? Concert opportunities? Prestigious jury members?
Or shall we go down a route where we try to offer each and every qualifying competitor the best and most valuable lessons in music, art, and life? So that even if you do not attain the first couple of prizes, you don’t feel like you lost. You would feel like you have the tools to get better. I want the competitors to feel like they’ve gained something either in technique, career advice, musical and artistic experience, or even something as simple as encouragement from the competition.
This is so we can build a world where artists feel like they are a part of something larger. That they can incorporate art and the lessons learnt from honing a craft, into their own lives.
For me, this is a prize that I can offer everyone and it will be something invaluable that they will carry with them for the rest of their lives.