Have you ever felt you’re working too hard, spending a lot of time on something, and investing your energy without getting desired or expected results? Tensions may be preventing you from your goals or a happier state. But where does tension come from?
You’re trying to hard.
When we’re practicing an instrument, playing sports or working at the office physical tensions often occur. While playing guitar, for instance, one might experience back pain, shoulder strains, right wrist swelling or left arm problems. When tension escalates it can develop to neck constraints, funny/ugly faces and even tendonitis. One starts to move muscle lips, cheeks or eyes, putting lots of unnecessary strength over the forehead or teeth gnashing.
So, what to do? Fear not my friend. Help is on its way. The Principle Of Least Resistance and Pareto’s Law (The 80/20 Rule) will shed some light on the matter.
Ever wondered why all in nature moves so gracefully and freely? A river takes the path of least resistance towards sea. The river moulds itself to every obstacle along the way. There is no effort, no concern, and no resistance. Just naturalness.
Our bodies obey the same rule. We can’t force ourselves to be taller and, in the same way, grass, flowers or trees simply grow. Everything in the Universe is ruled by this simple economic principle of spontaneity: Do Less, Achieve More.
Superstars, Olympic athletes, top performers, professional dancers or music idols, they all share this natural ability to make extremely difficult things seem easy and simple. This is one reason why they (usually) are not the best at teaching, sharing or talking about that state of easiness. How can a fish teach other to swim? How can you talk about the “perfect” way to breathe? You’ve done that all your life. There was no struggle, no effort, and no challenge. And now you simple do without thinking or analysing.
When we start devoting our practice to this natural state of mind/body control tensions begin to dissolve. Allow yourself not to force things, but to move along. Be water.
Recently I had the opportunity to accompany Gypsy Jazz great Paulus Schafer and I asked him for advice to improve my playing. He simply said:
“Hey Nuno, you know what to do, you already play great, and so you just need to keep playing and add more emotion and feel to what you are playing.”
Later that day, at the workshop, I asked him if he used a metronome to build speed and accuracy. He replied, surprised:
“What is that...? Oh, the tic-tac! No, never used it. I just start playing at a comfortable pace and, every day, I try to push the envelope, always being honest with myself and keeping consistency, accuracy and emotion.”
How many times do we force ourselves to reach a goal in the practice room instead of building naturalness and ease with our playing?
May I find serenity to accept the things I cannot change;
Courage to change the things I can and;
Wisdom to know the difference.
In our lives, as in our practice sessions, we build tension and waste energy when we look for power, control or approval towards others and ourselves. Criticism or fear can also undermine our natural qualities. Instead we should assume and reveal those qualities, enhancing their development.
“Master being different.
One day you will be recognized because you are different”
(NBA Superstar Shaquille O’Neal)
There are 3 practical exercises we can use in our day-to-day life. Give it a shot:
1 – ACCEPTANCE. Learn and practice accepting people as they are, including yourself (specially when you’re practicing something new in your instrument or art). This also applies to difficult circumstances and unfavourable events. Let each moment be what it is. Go easy on yourself. Don’t force things you cannot change, just witness them as they occur. Accept what is and let go of unrealistic or perfectionist scenarios. Avoid idealism sucking life out of you.
2 – RESPONSABILITY: You are the only person responsible for your actions, words, and feelings. Even when you are able to identify a person or a circumstance as the source of your concerns, it’s your thoughts about it that cause your discomfort. Not every guitar player has lightning bolt speed capacity like Jimmy Rosenberg or Yngwie Malmsteen. There are actually giants in music that never played fast (take Bill Frissell as one example). Guilt is useless. When facing a problem take the responsibility and generate a creative solution. Be aware of the storyline created by your mind. Everything is just an interpretation. If you shift the colour of your eyeglass lenses you will be seeing things from a different perspective.
3 – DETACHMENT: Stop persuading, convincing or explaining. Defensiveness generates resistance and forcing things only magnifies the initial barriers between people, events or abilities. Nobody has to prove the sun is shining. Even when people disagree or misinterpret your intentions, the sun keeps shining. The truth stands for itself, no matter what.
In the end, Pareto’s Law helps you acknowledge the importance of identifying the essential of each and every task at hand. Depurate your actions, thoughts and emotions to the basics and rudiments. Master them and elaborate on them.
Most importantly, one has to understand the great difference between a Goal and a Dream. Ask yourself if what you’re searching for is a Goal or a Dream.
A Dream is something usually identified as unreachable, one far fetch idealization that would provide great joy if some random or unpredictable event might happen by chance or luck.
A Goal is totally different. Once you set a Goal you’ll persist, step by step, until you reach it. Be aware of roadblocks and mind-body tensions as reminders of your own energy management. Go with the flow, be water and never take “No” for an answer. Soon you’ll be playing your “A-Game” as the easiest thing in the world.