January has this special feeling of freshness, of new beginnings. A new year with new opportunities lies ahead of you. It's natural to get caught up in this spirit and make grandiose resolutions.
This year you'll make your life epic, right?
The questions is: What will be different this year? Compared to all the preceding years when you made similar resolutions?
Sorry, I don't mean to come off as sarcastic and I'm definitely not mocking you. I also don't want to discourage you from making grandiose and epic resolutions. Nothing wrong with dreaming big and shooting for the stars - as long as you are acting on it.
Resolutions without consistent action supporting those resolutions are meaningless.
The sobering facts are that for most people their resolutions are abandoned by late January. So nothing changes and even worse, this abandoning is damaging to their self-esteem and self-image. Because anytime you make a resolution and don't follow through it's a blow to your self. There's a part of your psyche keeping track of those broken promises and commitments - and if you can't trust yourself your inner self knows it.
So why aren't we doing it then? What is holding us back?
You won't find the answer in this article. I'm no psychologist - and the (at least to me) more relevant reason - I don't even care anymore at this phase of my life.
Over the years of observing my own failures I've connected some dots in my personal situation that made a difference to me and that I'm going to share with you. If whatever you are doing is already working for you, great. Don't even bother too much with what I'm writing here. Continue on your path, or maybe take some of the ideas/concepts presented here and tweak your personal system more.
If what you are doing is not working for you, you won't risk a lot trying this process - just a bit of time (maybe an afternoon on a lazy weekend) You can always go back to the previous method and continue not getting results your old way. 🙂
One more thing before we start for real...
Give yourself permission to start at any time. Listen, you don't have to wait for January to show up in order to make changes. Maybe you are reading this in June. You could still start this process. It'll work even in June. 😉
Take Stock of Your Impact Areas
We live in times of almost limitless opportunities. Yes, there are people who are unfortunate, live in poverty, had to flee their war-torn country, etc. They probably are not reading this article and are not the intended audience.
Most people reading this have access to:
With great choices/opportunities, comes great responsibility. How are you dealing with those choices? Do the options/opportunities available to you serve you?
What's the Status Quo?
List all your personal life and impact areas and go through them taking stock of your current reality. Be honest with yourself, you'll get more out of it this way. Here are some life area examples and questions you could ask yourself:
Health - fitness level, sleep, nutrition
What's good, what's bad, what habits/assets are in place, what's missing?
Social - family/friends/relationships
What's the status of your key relationships? How close are you? How many real friends do you have? What's working? What are the friction points?
Are you on the right path/trajectory? What's your level of engagement? Is the work you are doing meaningful to you?
What equipment/resources do you have already? This could be equipment, software, books, courses, bandmates, music teachers, etc.
You might notice a ton of good things - spouse/partner/family, stable career, nice home, great friends. People and things you might have taken for granted and even forgotten. Acknowledge and value the good stuff. Appreciate your re-discovered treasures.
Specifically for our field of music: realize that people made/make great art with less. Anyone remember 4 track tape machines as state-of-the-art home recording solutions? Today's bedroom studio is more powerful than anything available 20 years ago.
Next define the intended outcome for each life area:
Elimination is the Key
Now comes the important step that most people miss. Many do take stock and know what they have or what they miss - but the natural tendency seems to be to add things. Get another tool, try to squeeze in another habit/project, simply do more.
No wonder people feel the time crunch. With all the stuff going on, it's natural to feel stressed about life in general.
TV/advertising also does not help. You are bombarded with false images of how everybody else does everything effortlessly - hey, they use product xyz and all problems are solved magically. Out comes the credit card because of course you want the same result.
Here's what to do instead:
For the next 30 days set yourself a reminder for the morning and ask yourself:
Take a good hard look at things - is this of value to you? Does this help you? Try to discard social conditioning as much as possible.
An example from my personal life:
After a long day of teaching - and as much as I love to teach and work with my students - I'd be tired and have low energy. I'd end up on YouTube watching videos. Yeah, I'd feel nostalgic when watching songs/performances of music from my youth, I might even learn a thing or two watching tutorials. But, going to bed past midnight totally screwed up my sleep and the next morning. I'd wake up late in the morning and due to the late start there would be no time for me left to make progress on my own projects before my next teaching round would start.
Of course, that cycle would then repeat the next day. 🙁
Here's what I did to fix this. I installed a software called ColdTurkey and set it up to completely block my PC at 21:45. No more access to the internet. Without the temptations now I read, drink some light tea, and get to bed at 22:30 or 23:00 at the latest. I then wake up rested at 7 and have the morning to work on what's important to me.
Some other quick wins might include ...
I can think, I can wait, I can fast.
Siddhartha by Hermann Hesse
To take the next step and bring it to an even higher level look for better alternatives and default choices. What do I mean?
Set Better Default Choices
You already have your default choices. We humans are creatures of habits. There are so many inputs bombarding us we'd go insane. Our subconscious is here to protect us and therefore a lot of processes and choices happen automatically - without us thinking.
Get clear on your current defaults - then think about optimizing those. Ask yourself if you could find healthier/saner alternatives?
For example: you are thirsty - what do you grab automatically? Is your default coffee the best choice? Not saying it isn't. While I'm not a coffee drinker, there are benefits to drinking coffee - just don't destroy your adaptivity levels by drinking too much and at the wrong times. Use coffee strategically.
If you always grab a sugary drink as a default - what are you thinking?!? How about switching to a healthier alternative? Drink water or tea instead.
Suggestions for Music Default Choices
Here are some suggested musical areas to think about.
What are you listening to in your car during your commute? Is this particular radio station the best choice? Could you listen to some educational podcasts instead? Would a pre-selected music playlist (music from other cultures, classical music, music you'd like to learn, an artist you want to emulate) be a better default choice?
How about eliminating music as background filler? Have pockets of silence throughout your day which makes intentional music listening even more powerful.
You could focus on 1 or 2 compressor plugins and truly master them instead of dabbling with your current 17.
Instead of appeasing yourself with 15 average purchases, you could save up to that dream software like Omnisphere 2 or Native Instrument's Komplete that you've been drooling over for ages. Overcome your mindset of scarcity. The 15 ho-hum purchases cost you way more in money and dissatisfaction.
What exercises do you use for warming-up? Are they the best for what your intended goals are?
Is it really the best idea to work on the dominant diminished scale when you haven't mastered the pentatonic and/or major modes yet?
Again, I don't know what the best choices are for you. You have to determine that yourself. The main point is to become more aware of all the opportunities around you for tweaking and improving your life and becoming more intentional with those choices.
Optimalism is the Goal
Elimination is only the 1st step. And keep in mind that it's not about self-flaggelation, depriving yourself or minimalism for minimalism's sake. I view it more as optimalism - shooting for the best. The goal is to achieve a state where you have all the resources/tools/energy/processes/habits and mindset in place to achieve optimum results. Elimination does not mean that you end up with nothing. It's about stopping to make (sometimes stupid) choices that don't help you fulfill your potential.
Consolidate the Mindset of Simplicity
Finally, resist the temptation to fill up the empty space. You've gained more energy/space/money - awesome. Keep it that way for a period of time. It's easy to give in to the temptation to buy more synths/sounds/plug-ins because you now have the money. Don't immediately take on any new project just because you have the time.
If you abandon the elimination too quickly and fill up your plate immediately after the first successes, you might get to a higher level, but you also might just have shifted the initial problem as well.
So, give yourself some time and breathing room for consolidation. Embrace the boredom that might show up due to more time. It's an important prerequisite to the creative process.
A helpful re-frame could be to think of this phase as refueling or rejuvenating. Fill up energy first to be ready for the next wave.
Over the next few weeks I'll go more in-depth and share personal use cases like how I've set-up my phone for minimum distractions, how I've hit my personal sweet spot of technology usage and found balance between working and re-charging. Initially, this might not seem related to music, but I've noticed a huge impact because changes in those areas allow the process of music creation to happen better as well as more frequently.
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