How often have you looked back at things you wish you would have done?
Laying awake at night thinking about what we wish we hadn’t said or done has become a bit of a standard joke, but in an achievement driven culture or field it can feel awfully relatable.
Even if it’s not keeping you up at night, I think it’s safe to say that most of us have choices we wish we would have made differently or situations we wish we would have handled differently in our past.
Regardless of how often you find yourself thinking about these past experiences, most of us probably spend much more time with the negative ones than the positive ones. To some extent, that’s likely for a positive reason. We all have a desire to grow, and using previous failures is a valid way to consider how we would like to move forward.
However, it might also be healthy to do the opposite.
When was the last time you drew some inspiration from yourself?
When was the last time you really thought about something you did that took courage, or something you prepared well for that had a positive outcome?
Even if your look back at yourself is neutral, rather than negative, there is a lot to be gained. It might be as simple as realizing that you weren’t as far behind as you thought.
As with most things, balance is key. Always seeing yourself with a super negative view would be unhelpful, but the same is true for viewing yourself in an inflated positive way all the time.
The next time you feel motivated to critique your past behaviors, consider also what you did right. Could you list both things and see them as just that…a list? Objective data on the situation that might come in handy later is a lot easier to work with in the future than a late night binge of self judgement.
The internet is so many things - a great source of information and inspiration, and also a chance to see how many people are already doing amazing versions of what you’d like to do.
That might sound cynical, but while I think we can find so much inspiration on the web, we can also feel defeated when we see our passions and ideas showing up in other people’s work.
Of course, it has been this way throughout history, and there are lots of famous examples of big discoveries happening simultaneously although only one person would end up being well known. It’s just that in 1800, the internet didn’t exist to let people know they weren’t alone in their genius.
In my case, I’m seeing the boom of mindfulness and wellness amongst musicians online at the same time that I am becoming more educated on these topics. It would be easy to feel like the ship has already sailed.
If we’re looking at it from this pessimistic point of view, then there are lots of things we could easily give up on. Playing the flute would be an obvious one - there are so many amazing flute players past and present, who needs one more?
In fact, I think that because there is so much available to us on the internet, we need people to continue to become experts and artists in places where there are also many other examples of success. It absolutely matters less what the most famous people are doing and more what you are doing to those who are close to you.
It is crucial for your students or peers to see you working hard and succeeding - it encourages them to think about what is possible.
It is impactful for you to build an interest in niche topics - it shows others the value in pursuing something meaningful even if our culture doesn’t prioritize it.
It is important for you to learn how to interpret and communicate through music - your playing will be a unique combination of your experiences and knowledge that leads to valuable performances and interpretations.
It is healthy for you to fail and succeed at something important - it both challenges you to grow and encourages you to keep going.
Beyond this, even though it can be hard to remember in the age of TikTok and Instagram, you are unique! There really isn’t anyone like you, although there will be others who are similar to you.
Your version of what you do, share, teach, and enjoy will be different than anyone else’s. And even if it somehow isn’t, it still matters.
One of my biggest pet peeves is the prevelance of “hacks” on the internet - both the type of person and the incessant shortcuts that are supposed to make things easy and effortless. The dictionary defines a hack as a “person who does dull, routine work.” Seems fitting for the endless internet articles about hacks for cutting avocados and streamlining our workflow.
Hacks play into our cultural desire for speed, efficiency and multi-tasking and our lack of attention and time for deep work. Any creative (and anyone who read Malcolm Gladwell’s Outliers) could tell you, though, that mastery takes time above most else.
As my students begin their school year, especially those in college, I am acutely aware of how much is being asked of them. Students beginning their first year in a new building or location, like middle school, high school, or college, have an especially big job of acclimating to new social and learning environments. First year college students are learning to fully fend for themselves for the first time, and all college students are learning over and over again to motivate themselves without the help of their families.
Anyone who is in school, and all of us who teach, are managing distractions. Our devices, social gatherings, that long lunch you’d like to have, etc. All of these things can zap time in an instant and contribute to the feeling of not having enough hours in any day.
As I observed my students hit the ground running this week, I could already start to see their feelings of overwhelm when it comes to time management. How, exactly, is this all going to fit?
The answer is the opposite of a hack. An anti-hack if you will. It lies in perspective.
Pay attention to your schedule. Where are their gaps that can be used for meals? When are you in the music building with a break that could be used for practicing? The random pockets of time that occur in your schedule are key for productivity in school. Use them to carve out space for intentional deep work.
Be aware of distractions
This includes your phone, iPad, laptop, Apple Watch, friends who are distracted practicers, and all the time you spend lamenting how much you have to do. Try to remain aware of what’s distracting you. Acknowledge those distractions, then forget them. Pick one thing to work on and get started.
Keep your deadlines in view
Make a list of important projects, performances, tests, and other deadlines you have throughout the semester and put it somewhere you will see it often. This list isn’t meant to scare you. Use it as a reminder to do what you can now instead of putting everything off until the last minute.
Find an honesty buddy
Everything is better with a friend. Find a friend who has a similar workload or schedule to you, and ask them to keep you honest. Have them give you a nudge toward what needs done if they catch you faffing (doing things in a disorganized way and generally not achieving much).
Make time for reflection
When it comes to perspective, reflecting on our habits and actions is the MVP. Debrief yourself each week - where did you overwork yourself? Where did you get a little lazy? How’s your sleep schedule?
It’s important to give your mind a break. Make sure you do things you enjoy that are unrelated to your work and studies. Much like sleep, doing fun, restful things allows our brain to process all of the other information it is managing.
None of these points on their own will miraculously make school easy, and they all take time to become habits. They might be a bit obvious, but they are not over simplifications.
Learning is all about effort. You get out of it what you put into it, and gaining a little perspective goes a long way.
I’m currently approaching the first weekend of a three week orchestra festival. Our first concert is tomorrow evening, and I get to play Peter and the Wolf as part of the program.
In the meantime, I’ve also been preparing for next week’s concerts because they include a flute and harp recital, a woodwind sextet performance, and a performance of the Mozart Flute and Harp Concerto.
This three weeks in the summer is always intense, but this year is extra so!
As I was planning and packing, I was preparing to feel a consistent sense of tension and anxiousness just based on the sheer amount of performances I would have. Now that I’m here and settled in, though, I feel an overwhelming sense of calm.
If I take a step back and look at it from a distance, it makes so much sense, and I feel it every year when I arrive. Although I have a lot of musical plates to keep spinning, my other usual life responsibilities have been temporarily taken off the table.
I have as much time as I need to practice, I can spend time in quiet reflecting on rehearsals or visualizing aspects of upcoming performances, and if I want to listen to the repertoire I’m performing I don’t have to find a place to be isolated at home to do so or squeeze it in between lessons.
The simplicity of my days here - a predictable timeline of commitments, having only the flute to really focus on (although I’m doing other work here and there), and even knowing exactly what and when I’ll eat creates an underlying calm that I appreciate so much surrounding these big concerts.
Musicians, athletes and performers often talk about being in a flow state. Usually they mean a time in a performance or a game that doesn’t last for a long extended period where we are so engaged in the moment that everything else falls away.
Having access to this simplicity of lifestyle, even for a few short weeks, creates a sort of overarching flow state for me that makes it so much easier to get to work, go to bed early, and generally do all the things I wish I usually had more time for when it comes to practicing.
Eventually, though, I’ll head home and back to reality (and I am always glad to do so when the time comes!). The question, then, is how do we create a little of this life flow in our regular day-to-day?
I’m reminded of all the stories of CEOs who own only one type and color of shirt and the same with their selection of pants so that they never have to consider their outfits, or celebrities who eat exactly the same meals every day. I have to admit, that sounds a little boring to me, but I do love a good routine and maybe this is why.
It certainly could be that a key to creating this flow on a regular basis is consciously creating a helpful routine around the basics - groceries, taking our vitamins, knowing when we will sit down to do our deep work so that it’s easier to shut out the noise, etc..
What I’m experiencing for the next three weeks is the supersized version of this life flow, but it does serve as inspiration to find a little more space in my day to day life when I head home.
How do you create space to flow in your daily tasks?
It’s ok to be tired.
There’s so much messaging right now to scale back, take a break, or clear our plates. Which, like all advice, is good circumstantially.
Sometimes we can do that - cut out things that aren’t important or worthwhile and open up beautiful pockets of productivity or rest.
Realistically though, it’s just not like that most of the time. Some seasons are consuming. If it happens that you are in one of these seasons, I’m with you.
If you are fully booked with things that feel draining or negative, first of all, I’m sorry. Life brings all types of seasons and this is just one of them. Keep doing your best to see the small joys and care for yourself.
If you are fully booked with wonderful things, then enjoy them. Yes you may feel exhausted, but we can be both joyful and worn out.
Either way, try not to give in to complaining about your tiredness. Our culture would tell us us to wear our busy-ness as a badge, but resist the urge. Wear your joys - step into them fully and be present - but try not to elevate busy as the goal.
See if you can embrace even a small aspect of this station stop on your journey. Be present to the things that make you pause or smile and soak them up. Know that nothing lasts forever, so do your best to keep your eyes open and take in what’s around you as you walk through this very real but also impermanent season.
Finally, you may already feel that you have taken on too much, but that’s often when we give up and take on even more. Learn to draw a line even if you feel you’ve already walked too far. Keep practicing saying no when you really need to.
Hang in there. Stay the path. Bring yourself to the present moment.
A new season will be here soon.
When I started blogging regularly near the end of 2020, I was just looking for an outlet - I had just started my yoga teacher training, was teaching completely online, had no gigs to prepare for because of the pandemic, and more free time than I’d had in years.
It was great to have somewhere to flesh out ideas about teaching, yoga, being a musician - whatever was on my mind (the benefits of writing something I wasn’t sure anyone would read was feeling that I could freely take my choice of topics)!
I wasn’t sure if I would continue writing when things went “back to normal” (what is normal now, anyway?) - I was writing a lot during the time that everything was shut down.
As we all got busier again I realized that I didn’t want to stop writing, but I needed to give myself a few perimeters so I could stick to it (keeping up with the topic of last week’s blog here, I needed some constraints to keep writing creatively).
I settled on a weekly blog, published mostly on the same day each week, and for the most part that’s worked well with my schedule and lifestyle now that my calendar has filled up again.
One of the things that I wasn’t expecting to come from sitting down to write each week is the way my willingness to be open with others would change. By allowing myself to write out my teaching methods and philosophies, feelings about career choices, ideas about yoga and meditation, etc., I have been able to solidify concepts, ideas, and goals for myself.
Blogging has given me a space to practice talking about things that are important to me, which in turn lets me feel confident in conversations with my colleagues and students.
As someone who truly enjoys their privacy and solitude (only child here!), I’m still surprised at how much I’ve enjoyed making new friends online and putting myself out there a little bit more. It helped that I did it in a way that felt genuine to me - I love writing, and am sure I never would have considered or stuck to a video blog, YouTube channel, etc..
Beyond feeling like I’ve given myself more time to think about important topics in my work, the most enriching thing about engaging with other musicians has been learning the similarities of our stories. For all the ways we’re different, there are so many commonalities that come up in our training, performance, personal struggles, and interests.
I think as musicians we can often feel alone - most non-musicians have a hard time understanding our work hours, the types of jobs we have, and the pressure we feel around our performances and skills.
But I also think that as musicians we often tell ourselves we are alone - that everyone would judge us or disregard us for feeling nervous or debating a different career, that no one else feels those things or was a late bloomer musically.
The reality though is that it’s all in our heads. If we really start to listen carefully to others and open up to them in genuine conversation, it becomes clear that what makes us all the same is our humanness - we feel pressure, have fears, live for a great performance, question our choices, commit to doing something unique and demanding - and the way we reconcile that with our work and artistry.
I suppose I’m sharing all of this as encouragement - that if you feel like you want to share somehow or get to know those around you more, it’s worth it. Listen to your gut and find genuine ways to start putting yourself out there that aren’t just performances. There is so much to gain from enriching our lives professionally not just in performance, but in communication and building rich support networks.
Some of the things I’ve started doing over the last two years are still surprising to me, and might even feel a little silly, but it's hard to imagine not doing them now:
I hope that this leaves you a little inspired to try something new and find outlets for yourself. What are the ways you could explore your unique interests and skills to connect with others? I would, genuinely, love to hear about them.
Do you ever notice that when you are busy you somehow accomplish a wild number of things in one day, yet when you have all the time in the world it can be hard to get any one project done?
With deadlines looming or people counting on us, it becomes quite clear how we need to use our free time.
I always thought that I was someone who thrived under a little pressure. As a student I would procrastinate just enough on papers and studying so that I would feel the pressure of my deadlines, and then I would sit down and crank out the work that needed done.
In hindsight, what I was creating for myself were constructive time constraints. Knowing I only had two weeks until the exit exams for my Master’s degree meant that instead of sitting and chatting with friends over coffee I needed to study over my many daily caffeinated beverages.
As a freelancer, this means that when I have a half hour break from teaching and there is a gig coming up I practice instead of faffing on the internet.
It turns out that I don't have remarkable self control, I just have constraints.
With summer just starting here and school finally ending for almost all of my students, I see them relax at the evaporation of the rigid constraints of school. They have space to sleep in, see their friends, go swimming, and get outside - all things that are necessary for kids who have spent so much of the year stressing over grades and standardized tests.
But as necessary as this space to play, daydream, and relax is, the lack of schedule often wrecks some havoc on practicing.
I’ve made some adjustments over time to how I teach in the summer to help my students keep improving without feeling like I am sucking the spontaneity out of their time off:
We take a break! Each summer begins with a week off from lessons and ends that way, too. If you’ve been a student at any point, you know how special and bittersweet the transition in and out of summer can be. Add in the time I am away for summer festivals and conventions and we average a decent amount of lessons without the requirement to be present each week.
I encourage creative practicing. During the school year most of my students squeeze their practice in during study halls or at night, but in the summer they can practice at whatever time of day feels right to them. Do they enjoy playing outside? Perfect for the nice weather and neighborhood enjoyment. Do they have a friend from school they could visit and practice with? Who says practice can’t be social sometimes! Do they hate sitting down for a full hour of practice? Divide it in half or thirds!
We have an end goal in mind. Although we are more relaxed in the summer, we’re still focused in lessons on moving forward in our skills. Having a recital at the end of the summer gives my students both an objective and something to look forward to. I make the recital on the same Sunday each year so that families know to plan for it well in advance.
We play something fun. I have a fairly structured curriculum I like to use in lessons, and although I adapt it to each student, they don’t always get to pick their repertoire. In the summer, I encourage them to find pop music, movie music or write down a song they like by ear that they could play at our recital. Getting to exercise choice after school and standardized testing season can feel like a real treat.
There are many applications of healthy constraints in our lives (personal boundaries being a great example) and in our practice rooms (using a timer and setting specific objectives for each session) but I was inspired to think a little differently about how constraints can help us by my old house and renovation projects.
When you live in a historic home built in 1900 or before, there are quirks - odd sized rooms, rules about keeping certain historical features, and old wiring are a few examples. Sometimes it just isn’t possible to change the space the way you might think is ideal, but there is always a creative solution to make the best of the space you have.
Having an old house is a lot like our playing and musicianship. The old foundation of how we’ve learned is there, but there is always a way to update the space and use our perspective and knowledge to make it better.
Our culture pushes make-your-own schedules, self-employment, and autonomy as the ultimate freedoms, but we’re missing the mark thinking that everything should be unbound. Healthy structures help us achieve our goals and enjoy the time we spend in work and activities.
Remember that even if you can't change your schedule, you can always exercise control over how you spend your time. Even if it’s just deciding how to divide those thirty minutes of practice.
Have you ever heard your teachers say their goal is for you to “teach yourself”?
It’s a common goal in music for teachers to discuss this concept, because at some point every student steps out on their own without a teacher they see each week to keep them on track. Although we can always choose to work with a teacher, no one knows us better than ourself. We all become independent learners at some point.
When we’re a student, growing the ability to teach ourself can look like taking our teacher’s advice about practice techniques, time management, listening, etc., and learning how to apply it appropriately in the practice room. During this time in our development, we still get to check in each week to make sure we’ve applied the tools correctly and are moving in the appropriate direction.
What about after school? We don't all go into teaching, but I've learned a lot about teaching myself from teaching others. I view my students very objectively - my goal is always to really see and hear what they are doing, notice what is holding them back, and find creative solutions that work for them specifically. (i.e. My mean inner critic never comes out when I’m listening to a student the way it does when I’m “teaching” myself.)
Beyond the reality that we are much meaner to ourselves than we are to others, there’s also the fact that we usually learn to guide ourselves at the same time we lose both our access to private lessons and the structure of music school. When it’s up to us to create our learning structure, that can prove a large hurdle in itself.
So when we really get down to practicing and improving on our own, how can we balance (or just plain shush) the inner critic who always has a lot of mean and distracting things to say but not nearly enough productive feedback to give?
I think there’s something missing from the whole process of the way that we are taught to approach teaching ourselves, and how we are taught to manage our fear and self criticism from the beginning.
This is a recent realization for me, brought on by a truly inspirational session of George Mumford’s mindful athlete course. During that particular session, it came up for a few people that they still feel so much doubt or anxiety doing the things they are skilled at. That as we build skill and expertise, we can often feel even more susceptible to outer judgement, and especially to self criticism.
In these scenarios where we know that we are able to do something, but afraid to realize our inner masterpiece (as George calls it), we can feel paralyzed. How do we keep moving toward our goals without getting distracted from right effort by our doubt and self criticism?
When we’re really being vulnerable and pushing ourselves it can often feel like our faith or trust in ourselves, and what we’re doing, has vanished. We can be distracted by the difficulty and demand of what we are trying to do. What we need is to cultivate trust in ourselves, our performance, our message, and our ability to show up in the way we need to.
Personally, I can feel overwhelmed by perfectionist thoughts, and this understanding that the mental barrier is arising from vulnerability and trying something challenging makes it easier to address.
How do we address it exactly, though? How do we cultivate trust?
See the moment in depth:
* Either reflect back on when you challenged yourself and felt vulnerable or try to experience that moment deeply in real time.
* Were you scared the entire time? As you look deeper, you will realize that there is a lot more nuance to it than that.
* Are you self critical the entire time? Or can you look with more intention to see beyond the self criticism and notice all the ways you know to help yourself practice well and grow your playing.
* As you start to see the truth in depth, see your fear and your inner critic, and also see how they intertwine with the entirety of your experience.
As you start to become aware of the truth - the depth of your experience - you will become more relaxed and observant which allows you to move forward moment by moment, doing what you know to do. You can focus on right effort.
Teaching ourselves is an exercise in mindfulness - how are we speaking to ourselves? What are we paying attention to, and do we need to shift our attention? How are deeply are we experiencing the moment?
The objective is not to remove our doubt, but to make doubt the tool for learning. Know that doubt shows you where you can grow.
At some point during the same session of the Mindful Athlete George said, “when you want to learn something, teach it.”
What better way could there be to grow as a musician than to learn to mindfully teach ourself?
I have been reading, and thinking, a lot about time lately. Then again, doesn’t it always seem like we are thinking about time?
How much can I get done today, how much is left to do, there’s not enough time to cook or do laundry, how many more students could I teach, etc…
I’ve just started reading Four Thousand Weeks by Oliver Burkeman, and already it has made me reconsider the way we perceive time and how we’ve come to interact with time the way we do.
Just before starting this book, I had a conversation with my husband that I never imagined I would have - I actually said out loud that I would like to be less busy.
As musicians, we’re primed from an early age to know how to be busy successfully, and that to be busy is to be successful. But lately, as my plates continue to fill with activities that feel an awful lot like busywork, I’m wondering how much of that actually equals success?
If I am constantly teaching but never have time for the deep, intensive practice that is required to perform the way I want I am busy, and maybe successful? What if I consider the type of students am I teaching, how well I am teaching, and how much my performance abilities suffer - do I still feel successful?
If I never have time to sit down and flesh out new ideas for classes and workshops or to codify what I am learning from teaching and performing, I am definitely busy but what about successful?
If I can’t enjoy time with my family or doing activities I love because I am working so much, it’s possible I am both busy and successful, but not content.
All of these questions are very personal - we all want different things, and we've all reached varying levels of achievement to this point.
As I was reading Four Thousand Weeks last night, I came across two passages in the book that really made me pause:
“…you have too much to do, so you try to fit more in, but the ironic result is that you end up with more to do. The worst aspect of the [efficiency] trap is, though, is that it’s also a matter of quality. The harder you struggle to fit everything in, the more of your time you’ll find yourself spending on the least meaningful things.”
“The more firmly you believe it ought to be possible to find time for everything, the less pressure you’ll feel to ask whether any given activity is the best use of a portion of your time.”
I can relate to these statements at my core. I’ve had that feeling so often that time is slipping away and that I never quite get enough done to really treat myself to spending time on the important stuff.
It’s exactly how I was feeling when I said I’d like to be less busy (it’s still seems weird to say that out loud!). Isn’t that why we work so hard in the first place? Not to add more to our plates, but to be able to choose what’s on it in the first place.
Even in just the first few chapters of Four Thousand Weeks, Burkeman makes the point that as we get more skilled and gain more resources our culture does not reward us with time - it rewards us with more to do and higher demands.
I feel a strong urge to release things right now - even some good things - to have space. Space to be still, to sit and think, to practice and not be rushed.
What would it be like if we weren’t constantly chained to exterior time keepers like the demands of others and the sense that we need to be everywhere and everything to be worthwhile? I think it would feel luxurious, and probably also incredibly challenging because it would require directly opposing the cultural norm: busy = value.
Isn’t it interesting, too, that just talking about doing less sounds lazy, selfish, and entitled? Or at least that’s how I’m feeling talking about it. Not to mention the financial factor here - there’s only so much we can choose not to do before the bills pile up, so some of this is daydreaming for sure.
And still, I’d like to cancel a few things this week. Free up some time to practice, to plan, to write…maybe even to do nothing.
Is there a way to shift how we relate to time in our current culture? I’m not sure, but it’s fun to think about.
At the end of a semester, a school year, or a long project we might notice ourselves lacking in energy. How inconvenient that we often hit this energy lull right when we need to push toward the finish line.
Lately, I’ve noticed this in my students as their energy levels drop and their attention to detail goes along for the ride.
This is the end of the first “regular” school year post-pandemic; we’re busier than we have been in two years, bouncing right back to the same expectations as the before times.
Is it any wonder that we feel a little tapped out?
It’s not just my students that are running low on energy - I am also finding myself feeling drained at the end of each day, and wishing for an extra hour of sleep when my alarm goes off.
Fortunately I am more aware than I used to be of the ways I can help bolster myself for a busy life. I know that practicing yoga, meditation, eating well, and making sure I have time to practice the flute all help me feel prepared, calm, and generally well. But knowing these things help doesn’t make it any easier to fit them in when my schedule feels stuffed to the brim.
I would guess I’m not the only person who can feel even more stressed about fitting in the “good stuff” when time is lacking. It can easily become just another thing that we have to check off the list each day.
The necessity of our responsibilities isn’t going away any time soon, so how can we find the extra boost we need to recommit to finishing a task well?
By making time to have fun.
Are you rolling your eyes yet? Thinking, “I’m busy and tired and she is really suggesting that I have fun?!”
Well, I am.
Hear me out - it’s not as trite as it sounds.
I am not saying to drop everything and take an island vacation. In fact, I’m almost suggesting the opposite. Find somewhere in your day that you can genuinely enjoy an activity. Preferably, an activity that has nothing to do with your to-do list.
Maybe it’s the ten minutes you read a book by your favorite author at the end of the day. Or, the time it takes to do the daily Wordle over your morning cup of coffee. It could be driving with the windows down and the radio turned up or taking a walk to get some fresh air.
As you might have guessed, those are some of my current favorites. Your list might be completely different. Identifying the things that genuinely bring you joy is an important step in helping ourselves create more brain space for the tasks we have to do.
You are doing something good for yourself at a foundational level by identifying these every day things that bring you joy - you’re setting yourself up to have somewhere you can go easily when you feel your mind or body becoming weary. Not somewhere you can escape to in avoidance for a day or a week or in place of completion, but a place you can hold space for yourself on a regular basis.
Prioritizing these small pockets of joy works because it is when we allow our brain to take a break that it really gets to work. As we rest and relax the brain codifies information, correlates the things we have learned, and rejuvenates itself. Have you ever put down a difficult puzzle only to come back later and instantly see what you had been missing?
None of us like to acknowledge it, but when we really feel there is no time or energy is exactly when we need to carve out space for these small joys. Soak them up fully for a short time each day and carry the joy back to your work.
Hi, I'm Morgann! Flutist, teacher, aspiring yogini, and life long learner figuring out how to create my way through life one crazy idea at a time.