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You are what you repeatedly do

I've been taking piano lessons for the past two months. I haven't written about it here on my blog but I'll save the details of what motivated me to learn the piano for another post. Right now I'm writing because I recognized something after two months of taking piano lessons. A weekly thirty-minute one-on-one session with a coach doesn't make someone a proficient pianist. It's the practice that makes someone a proficient pianist.

But I already knew that. In fact, when I started taking lessons I knew that if I didn't practice I wouldn't get anywhere. Now it's been two months and I feel like I don't know nearly as much as I should. Every week I end up not practicing enough because I constantly put practice off until tomorrow, telling myself that I can make up for it later. As the weekly session with my coach gets closer, I feel more and more anxiety for not having practiced enough. I fear he will call me out on it and get angry. But why should he? It's not his fault. There is no one to blame for lack of practice but myself! I'm paying him for his time and if I choose not to make use of what I'm paying for then I'm only screwing myself. No one else.

That's another interesting thing. Every week I feel so sure my coach will call me out for not practicing enough but every single time I leave the session calm and relaxed. I'm sure he notices that I haven't practiced but he doesn't get angry or make me feel bad for not practicing. Instead he calmly coaches me and helps me improve, even if the improvements are barely noticeable. Sure, yelling and screaming can be useful when you're pushing your physical body and trying to block out what your brain is telling you, but when you're trying to get your brain to learn something new it has to want to do it. Pressuring your brain into learning just won't work.

Practice under stress is bad. Very bad. Our brains are wired to shut down certain areas when we're stressed out. Stress makes learning much more difficult. If we're stressed out every time we practice, we're not going to look forward to practicing (and when we do, it won't be effective anyway). Practice should be fun. Science has even proven that we learn faster and remember more when we're having fun!

When I started learning the piano, I set myself a goal of being able to play Fur Elise by December 25th, 2009. That's about four months away. At the rate I'm going now it will probably take me another year. But I can fix that. I can shorten one year of skill development into four months. All I need to do is commit to practicing and make it a regular habit. It needs to become a routine -- as routine as sleeping or brushing my teeth. And it needs to be regular. Cramming in a six-hour practice session the day I'm meeting with my coach won't help my brain form new synapses.

You are what you repeatedly do. That's my new mantra. Earlier today I opened a random book on my bookshelf and turned to a random page and saw that quote. Starting today, I'm going to write that sentence every single morning when I wake up and spend a few seconds contemplating what I want to be. Do I want to be nothing? Then I should do things that equate to nothing. Do I want to be a decent pianist? Then I should practice the piano daily.

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  1. I liked this a lot.

    I have been thinking a lot about something similar lately – have you seen Collateral? There is a kind of running theme throughout the movie that Jamie Foxx’s character driving a cab is just “temporary.” During one conversation he admits that he has been driving that cab for a really long time (I think 10 or 15 years)

    That is a scene that I think about a lot when I tell myself something is just temporary – really? Is it? Or am I just telling myself it is temporary because I don’t want to face the fact that this is a part of my life, and I’m not doing anything to change that?

    I think I have an idea for a blog post now 😉

    • Thanks Sid!

      I do vaguely remember that scene. It’s one of the reasons I liked that quote so much (I believe it’s an Aristotle quote: “You are what you repeatedly do. Excellence is not an event — it is a habit.”). If you say to yourself “I am what I repeatedly do” and then you ask yourself “What do I repeatedly to every single day? What does my average day look like?”, it really makes you face reality.

      If you don’t love what you do, then you basically don’t love who you are and that’s a pretty sad existence!

      I’m looking forward to your next post. 🙂

  2. Nice post. I can relate to it in many ways. Got to go buy some new brakes for my bike for my daily bike ride… monthly… yearly….

  3. i can relate ive been doing stupid things for the most part of my life in my free time i like that quote “you are what you repeartedly do” life is short i cannot believe that ive wasted a big portion of my youth gettin drunk doing drugs playing video games listening to garbage brain washing music whatching stupid movies knowing all this i still do the same things i wish i knew how to change my ways stupid habbits of mine

    • The most important thing is that you recognize the importance of time and life in the moment and make a conscious effort to improve. We’ve all done things in the past that we regret, including wasting time, but wasting more time crying about it certainly won’t change things!

      You’ve recognized you should change your habits and that is a huge first step. There is plenty of wisdom out there that can help motivate you and get you started with improving your life. Search Google and ask around. If you have any questions or want to talk more, I’d love to help. Use my Contact page to send me an email and we can start a discussion. 🙂

  4. Wow, I can’t believe I just found all of this. I have been repeatedly (yearly) having “the Febuary’s” which consists of feeling bad about myself and not doing much and it’s a struggle to get out of it. Great wake-up call. Thank you