This post is the second in a series of three, so, you know, expect another one on this topic. Here’s a link to the first post. Thanks for reading!
My last post was all about the importance of perseverance. Whether you’re riding a bike across Iowa or trying to become a better musician, all you really have to do is keep pedaling. Everything else pales in comparison to perseverance.
We gotta put in the time and keep putting in the time. There’s no substitute for not quitting. We can make the journey more pleasant, though, by controlling our self-talk.
Repeat After Me: You Can Do This
Last summer, the Tuesday of RAGBRAI began with 10 miles of riding directly into a 20-mph headwind. Ye gods! It was awful. Working so hard for such little progress invites a lot of nasty thoughts, mostly about the futility of life and how meaningless man’s struggle is. Nietzsche finally started to make sense to me.
On top of the headwind, I knew I was beginning a 105-mile day, the longest ride of the week by far. My self-talk was getting pretty crappy pretty quick.
I did two things to get myself to keep going, and both were instrumental (music pun!):
First, I started repeating “you can do this” over and over in my head. Actually, what I said was a little less printable than “you can do this,” but you get the idea.
Second, I stopped for pancakes. Best decision ever.
Good Self-Talk Is Essential
This may seem to go against my my last post, wherein I argued that as long as you just keep pedaling, a complaining brain that’s throwing negativity your way is no big deal.
I think this is true on the micro level, moment-to-moment.
There are some days when we don’t feel good about our musicianship at all. Our internal monologue is filled with negative thoughts about our abilities, and we’re totally down on ourselves. On days like this, we still sit down with our instrument and put in the time because that’s what musicians do. Just keep pedaling.
But on the macro level (or generally speaking), we have to feel good about ourselves and our abilities as musicians. If we’re down on our playing every day, if our overall estimation is that “I’m no good and will never be,” we’re not setting ourselves up for long-term success. Statements like that are neither accurate nor helpful. So, how do we fix this?
This is something I have had to work at. Hard. Every day.
My natural instinct is to be highly self-critical, and I’ve been consciously working on this for about five years with great success. One thing has done the trick for me:
Print books, audiobooks, whichever. On a daily basis, I bombard my brain with ideas like:
- Our beliefs govern our actions, and we can change our beliefs.
- Done is better than perfect.
- Failure is a chance to learn.
I find ideas like these in books like this:
Psycho-Cybernetics by Maxwell Maltz
The War of Art by Steven Pressfield
On the Shortness of Life by Seneca
The Icarus Deception by Seth Godin
The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho
How to Stay Motivated by Zig Ziglar (audiobook only, and it goes on sale occasionally)
This stuff keeps me in a good frame of mind each day. If you find yourself saying not-so-nice things to yourself about your playing on a regular basis, you need to be reading books like this on a regular basis!
What do you read to keep yourself centered?