Imagine you win a competition. And the prize is to go and watch your favourite sports team train. You turn up on the appointed day, as wide eyed as any schoolboy, and the club officials lead you out to a spot on the training pitch where you can watch from.
But you notice that your favourite player is sat in his tracksuit on the sideline. Talking to your other two favourite players. So you wonder over, and ask them when they’re going to train. And they say something like: ‘I’m not training today. I had to file a VAT return for my accountant and I don’t feel like training.’
You’d feel cheated right? Because these are professional athletes. Training is part of what they get paid vast amounts of money for. It’s part of their job. In reality they’d only get out of training if they were injured. Or ill.
What’s this got to do with learning to play the bass?
Well the practice that we do is the equivalent of a professional athlete’s training. And unless we’re very lucky, no-one’s paying us for the time we’re investing in trying to get better at the bass.
And I’ve talked about in previous articles that the best way to make consistent improvements is by using the principles of Deliberate Practice, and specifically the concept of staying in ‘the learning zone’ so that you’re always working on challenging exercises.
But you know what? Deliberate Practice is hard work. And we’re human. And life happens, whether we like it or not. Sometimes we have crappy days and don’t feel like practicing. Last week I had to stay up until 2 AM to schedule accounts for my main business and then email it to my Accountant so he could file my VAT return. And the next day I felt pretty lousy and didn’t want to practice.
Or you have days when you feel sick. Or your partner’s sick. Or your kids or your dog are sick. And often when you finally carve out some time on those days you just don’t feel like practicing. You feel like watching a Movie. Or the latest episode of ’24.’ Or ‘Lost.’ Or reading a book. Or whatever. Just not practicing.
So what do you do on a day when you don’t feel like practicing?
There’s 3 approaches you can take.
The first approach is obvious. You can decide that for today you just don’t feel like it, and you’re going to have a day off, take some down time and come back the next day refreshed and raring to go.
The second approach is also obvious. You decide that you’re just going to practice anyway.
The third approach is not so obvious. You decide that you’re going to practice, but that you’re going to practice in The Comfort Zone and not in The Learning Zone.
I thought the whole point of Deliberate Practice was to practice in The Learning Zone? Why would we practice in The Comfort Zone?
As I’ve said before Deliberate Practice is hard. There’s only so much of it you can do in a day because it’s mentally tiring due to the intense focus you have to bring to bear on your practice. And if you’re feeling crappy trying to apply Deliberate Practice to a full session can end up being counter productive and leave you giving up your session early in frustration.
So this is why we turn to the Comfort Zone. By definition activities in the Comfort Zone are things you can already do relatively easily. So when this happens to me I simply step back two or three weeks in my virtual Practice Journal (an Excel Spreadsheet if you really want to know) and pick an exercise that’s related to what I SHOULD have been practicing, but one that’s far more comfortable. And I practice that instead.
Sometimes 10 or 15 minutes of this warms up your brain and you can switch from Comfort Zone activity to Learning Zone activity for the rest of your session. But sometimes it doesn’t.
The worst case scenario is that I’ve spent my practice session solidifying my understanding of a particular technique or musical application. You’ve got to be careful though – lots of sessions like this lead – as we’ve seen in previous articles – to stagnation and the mythical ‘plateau.’
But for the odd practice session, remember you’re human and don’t beat yourself up about it. Life happens.
I can’t even face doing ‘Comfort Zone’ practicing. I want to give it a miss today…
If you genuinely feel like that then there’s probably no benefit to be gained by forcing yourself to practice. When this happens to me – which is usually when I’m ill or recovering from illness, or more often when one of my kids is ill – I give myself permission to miss a session.
There’s a but though.
If I miss a session I either make up the time later on in the week OR I listen to something so stimulating that the missed session won’t be repeated the next day.
Actually I’m not telling the truth, I do both. On the day I miss a practice session I immerse myself in music that’s so utterly inspiring that I find my fingers playing ‘air bass’ AND then I usually add 10 minutes a day to my normal practice schedule until the time has been made up.
So let’s summarize what to do when we don’t feel like practicing (for whatever reason).
We can practice anyway. We can practice at a lesser intensity. Or we can listen to music so great that we find ourselves playing ‘air bass.’
Before we get to the fortunate position of being paid to get better there’s two things you need to remember: We’re only human. Life happens.
Click on the link if you want to know more about Deliberate Practice.