Finish What You Start

Commitments are important.  To others for sure, but especially to yourself.

Sometimes life gets in the way of your commitments and your practice falls by the wayside.  When this happens, and it will happen, it is important to start again as soon as possible.  Get back into the gym, pick up the pen, climb back onto that horse.  The negative momentum builds quickly so it is vital to not allow it too much of a grip.  This can only be accomplished by dusting yourself off and taking a step forward.

A slipup in your practice is also an indicator for you to stop and evaluate your commitment.  Why did it slip?  Why has your enthusiasm waned?  Have you overcommitted yourself?  Lost interest?

Taiichi Ohno of Toyota developed the 5 Why’s method in the 1950’s which, in essence, is to question something again and again like a child until the root of the issue is found.  If you have lost interest, why have you lost interest?  Because it seems to take up all of your limited spare time?  Why is that?  You are sleeping later?  Why?  Because you are spending more time with someone and not getting to bed at the same time as before?  Keep going until the true reason appears and then work to fix that.

Once a commitment is made it is important to see it through, no matter how justified you feel the reason for quitting.  It helps if the commitment has a predetermined end date, or desired end state.  This helps to set the stakes and to gauge where it falls in your chain of priorities.  One year is a great place to start for a serious commitment.  You can test the waters with something once a week for a month, something else for a semester.  Your greatest commitments – marriage and children – will be for the rest of your life.

Whatever you have committed to, make sure to fulfill your end of the bargain.  Show up every day and get the work done.  Be mindful about what and how much you commit to as it will affect how much time you have for your other commitments and your free time.

Don’t commit lightly, but when you do, finish what you started.

Pick Up The Phone

If you want to get something done – you need to pick up the phone.

Sending text messages or emails to make something happen is a delaying tactic that I realize I’ve used for years. You need to do something so you send a message, thereby creating the illusion of progress. But in actuality you are putting off the hard choice or difficult decision.

The message you sent will end up bouncing back and forth in the ether and the result you are looking for will take days to accomplish, rather than minutes.

People respond well to one on one interactions. The result of our ever-connected society is that we are less connected than ever. A voice on the other end of the line is a welcome respite to the pile of emails and messages we now deal with on a daily basis.

A phone call also pushes your agenda to the top of the pile, as it can’t be ignored or delayed like an email can. They either answer or they don’t.

Emails are great for solidifying what was discussed on the phone and for sharing information, but when you need something done it is time to pick up the phone.

Practice in Public

When I was younger I really wanted to play guitar.  Even as a young child, when asked by my parents if I wanted to take music lessons, that was the instrument I enthusiastically requested.  Then they put me into violin…

Later I got my wish in the form of a cherry red Stratocaster.  Weekly music lessons were started and my teacher jumped right in to teaching me Metallica licks.  I would take these home and practice without the amplifier, wanting to get it right first.

Later still, I bought myself a nice little acoustic in Greece while traveling.  One of the guys I was with was already really good and a bunch of us started playing together.  We’d trade off rhythm for lead, but when it was my turn I would usually play very softly, as if only for myself.

Looking back at those years I can see that my approach was all wrong.  I treated it like a solo activity even when in a group.  Scared of hitting a wrong note in public, I didn’t hit any notes at all.

Practice Required

Getting better at any skill requires dedicated practice.  That’s a no-brainer.  And a lot of that practice will be done in private.  But to advance quickly you need to receive feedback.  That’s why it is important to devise ways to practice in public.

Hanging it on the line does three things:

  1. Gets you the quick feedback you need
  2. Forces you to deliver imperfect attempts
  3. Trains you for the spotlight so you don’t choke when put on the spot

This doesn’t mean you should never practice scales in your bedroom again.  The idea is to prepare first, then perform what you’ve learned – no matter the level of development.  If you started playing guitar last week then I want you on stage playing Mary Had a Little Lamb this weekend.

Don’t Fear the Spotlight

Practicing in public is about devising ways to showcase your progress and release your work into the world.  Yet it can be difficult to do.  We fear being put on the spot; being ridiculed for our feeble first attempts.  While there may be some ribbing at first, those same people will quietly respect you for attempting something in public.

With a bit of practice that fear will subside and your skills will continue to grow.  You’ll be getting the quick feedback required to progress and confidence in your skills will soar.  And it doesn’t take much practice before you are far better than everyone around you who doesn’t practice at all, making your skills seem even more impressive by comparison.

If the ultimate goal is to showcase your skills in public then get used to practicing there as well – warts and all.  Progress will come faster and you will develop confidence in your skills.

I think it’s time to dust off that guitar.