Manage Your Self-Talk: What 7 Days On a Bike Taught Me About Music

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.

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.

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?

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:

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!

The above list is a good place to start. If you like nonfiction, try Psycho-Cybernetics or The Icarus Deception. If you like fiction, try The Alchemist.

What do you read to keep yourself centered?