How To Disengage From Work: Addressing Worries Properly

36 - Adressing Worries

Practicing an instrument and performing live events is what the musician is doing for a living. We can call it work, right? Training, practice session, gig, if you will! 😉

Worrying is a major obstruction to peak performance. Feeling concern harms resting, re-charging and detachment from work.

The more one worries about practice, performance, deadlines, events or other subjects, the more one feels the need to work more and rest less.

Mental disengagement is increasingly harder to take place when feelings of insecurity, incapability or lack of preparation appear. Forcing things seems to be the only way out: practice more, work harder and stay up late.

The problem is that the vicious circle aggravates towards exhaustion unless properly addressed. So, why do we worry and how can we start Letting Go… The World Of Make Believe?

Time pressure creates tension, concern and worries that undermine your work and performance. The more lack of time is felt the less you pace yourself. The constant state of alertness sucks the life out of you and you start obsessing on getting things done.

First things first: Address your worries once and for all.

Is there any unfinished business going on, any dishes to wash or dirty clothes to clean up? Do it. Put it behind your back and move on. Take care of your groceries, your appointments, your to-do lists and get some Headspace by closing all the nagging open loops ruminating in circles round your head.

Closing loops is identical in any kind of circumstance, especially when practicing or performing in a musical situation. What are your worries? What’s really troubling you and being avoided? Are you fiddling about your technique? Do you feel you’re not able to build speed? Is it your lesser creativity on improvising that is bugging you? Is it the sound of your pick, your comping style, your melodic interpretation or your harmonic comprehension of a tune?

Worries start knocking on your door whenever you feel like having an unfinished business working against you. The trick is to outline a strategy to address those insecurities, diving deep outside your comfort zone and coming back stronger than ever.

The goal of practicing is actually addressing your focus and attention towards fundamental musical aspects of your choice. And performance is the stage where you reveal those choices.

Journaling is an effective way to address your issues.

  1. Keep notice of any worrying thought that comes to mind;
  2. Schedule a working session to address your musical, technical or interpretative issue that is bothering you;
  3. Work on it.

You may realise that after addressing your worries you’ll be able to relax and let go, consequently disengaging effectively from labor duties. Subsequently, you step back from overload and burnout having more time to replenish, stay creative, motivated and fulfilled.

So, take the opportunity to vent all your worries right now by sharing them in the comment section bellow. Take off that weight and let’s talk.

Burnout Prevention

 

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After a Pilates/Yoga workout session one of my students started talking about running Lisbon’s half marathon. The 62-year-old man ran 17 Kilometres in 43 minutes and had made it in 42 minutes once. “The most difficult part is not the race, it’s the preparation required to be able to run it” he said.

He wasn’t willing to repeat the experience anymore. Not because of the race itself, but because of the daily preparation needed prior to the race.

Likewise, concert hall presentations, auditions, competitions, tests or a simple gig on a local bar may demand some level of intense preparation.

What happens afterwards? You’ve run the marathon, you’ve prepared for that big event… and you hope not to return in the near future. Why is it harder to come back the next day and start all over again? Where does this feeling of apathy, energy loss, indifference or detachment come from? What to do with it?

I remember watching Michael Phelps winning 200m Individual Medley Gold Medal at London 2012 Olympic Games, his 20th which made him the greatest Olympian of all time, plus the only athlete to ever win that competition 3 times in a row. He made it surpassing his archrival Ryan Lochte plus several younger and gifted opponents.

After the achievement Phelps had one more swimming event to win his 21st gold medal! Did he took a rest? Did he celebrate? No way, Jose! The guy asked permission to the officials to “chill” in the warm up pool (check minute 7:17 and 8:19 of the video). That’s pretty amazing, don’t you think?

So how can we prevent burnout, exhaustion and loss of interest to come back to the practice room the next day and keep working on those chops?

As we’ve seen before, an individually balanced Work-Rest ratio favours our ability to re-fuel our energy to keep moving forward and prevents boredom or mental disengagement. But this occurs DURING our practice. What happens AFTER the practice session ends is different.

When we talk about rest periods we’re basically referring to 2 major concepts:

  1. The rest period in the middle of a workout session (the 5 minutes of the Pomodoro Technique or an NBA Timeout);
  2. The rest period between workout sessions (call it a day, going home to get some sleep, taking one day off, the Weekends, Holidays or Summer Vacations).

What we do during those longer periods of rest can have a major impact in our following performances. Obsessive thinking and worrying throughout the day builds on exhaustion. Your mental and emotional cling makes it harder for you to Let Go and prevents you from taking an actual breather from work.

When experiencing burnout we do realize we’re not at 100% of our abilities. That’s a source of concern and it will make us cling deeper, staying an extra hour at work, a longer hour at the gym.

In my lawyer years I’ve experienced this problem. Court deadlines had to be strictly observed and work had to be done beforehand. At the office I struggled to borrow one more hour in a day. I actually talked about the need of a 25th hour to get it all done! With nowhere to go the workdays were getting bigger at the same time sleep nights were getting smaller.

The problem is that putting an extra hour of work in order to catch up cuts the rest period wide open, overloading, tiring and draining your reservations of energy. You will need even more time to recover and clarity of mind to stop this snowball effect.

Mental disengagement is a must. You don’t get out of the gym thinking about the bicep or squat reps you’ve put in the session, right? Your mind stops thinking about it after finishing the specific exercise and moves on to the next thing. Likewise, after ending your ear training session, stop singing intervals. Stop humming little melodies. Stop trying to find out what’s the chord progression of every song you’re listening on the radio.

If you’re a musician reading this, please shut your mind a little bit! Turn off the radio, take off the headphones and go find something else to do instead. You’re only making yourself (and people around you) insane! Seriously!

Here are a few suggestions to disconnect from practice and recover energy:

  • Cease all your connections related to work. No emails, phone calls or texting. Try switching to Flight Mode and see what happens;
  • Don’t give in to the sense of perpetual emergency caused by the need to respond to every outside stimuli;
  • Don’t offer 24-7 availability. Set some rules and attend requests in a certain period of time;
  • Disconnect from fellow musicians, students or musical agents from time to time. Meet different people with different interests and talk about other subjects beyond music;
  • Stop working on holidays, festive times of the year and vacations.

Producing extraordinary work requires learning to stop. What are your best tactics to take some time off and re-energize?

My daily practice routine on Gypsy Jazz Guitar

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We are celebrating 1 year of weekly research articles about "Maximizing Performance"! Thank you all for your support, friendship and love. Glad to be a helpful hand in your way to Mastery :)

Here’s my personal daily practice routine on Gypsy Jazz Guitar. Hope it will inspire you:

I – After waking up:

  1. 1st Pomodoro = La Pompe (or Gypsy Bossa or Rumba Feel)
  2. 2nd Pomodoro = Django’s Solos (or New Tunes)
  • All Of Me (184bpm)
  • Django’s Tiger (221bpm)
  • Montagne St. Genevieve (178bpm)
  • Dark Eyes (240bpm)
  • Minor Swing (197bpm)
  • Nuages (115bpm)
  • Undecided (234bpm)
  • Claire De Lune (120bpm)

II – Before Lunch:

  1. 3rd Pomodoro = Transcribing and playing licks
  • Bireli Lagrene
  • Stochelo Rosenberg
  • Robin Nolan
  • Andreas Oberg
  • Adrien Moignard
  • Gonzalo Bergara
  1. 4th Pomodoro = Melodic Interpretation (articulation, dynamics, phrasing)

III – After Lunch:

  1. 5th Pomodoro = Soloing Concepts
  2. 6th Pomodoro = Harmonic possibilities

IV – In the Afternoon:

  1. 7th Pomodoro = Composing and Arranging
  2. 8th Pomodoro = Free improvisation over tunes

Balancing Work And Rest

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Anders Ericsson’s research on the 10.000 hour rule to achieve mastery has become a corner-stone to every world-class achiever’s frame of mind.

10.000 hours of deliberate practice equals 10 years of hard work. There upon one should ask: how should  the work load be distributed through all of those years, months, weeks days and even hours?

So far we’ve focused our attention over the best ways to practice, meaning, how to use time while we’re actively engaged at practicing and performing our art, craft or instrument. What about resting? When is the best time to  say: “Let’s take a break” or Let’s call it a day”.

What is the ideal attention span of concentration? How much time can one remain focused and engaged in a given activity? How much recovery time is needed before re-engaging properly in the task at hands?

Deliberate practice can be draining and can even start producing undesired mindless practices.

  1. One needs to re-fuel the body-mind tank before taking another go (resource theory).
  2. At the same time, the brain is stimulated by novelty and shuts down with repetition so one should be aware when enough is enough (mindless theory).

The resource theory

For starters, the work-rest ratio is not stagnant and may vary widely from person to person. If you think about all the different lengths of classes you took from kindergarten to college you might realise there are some wild differences between teacher’s lecture and recess: 45/15 or 50/10 or 90/30 and so on.

There’s actually a technique called “The Pomodoro” which helps you achieve a high state of productivity by setting a timer for only 25 minutes a session. Goals must be objective and the short duration of the practice session may burst your motivation into higher grounds. 25 minutes may start seeming a long period for absolute focused attention but reveal to be a short period to nail your goal. Who wouldn’t be excited to resume the practice session for another 25 minutes?

Let me give you an example: If you’re currently maximizing your performance by practicing deliberately for 4 hours a day try re-schedule your working sessions as follows:

  1. Set the Pomodoro timer for 25 minutes;
  2. Take a 5 minute break;
  3. Resume the Pomodoro for another 25 minutes;
  4. Schedule the procedure for 4 spaced times of the day;
  5. Choose 8 topics to work on (one for each Pomodoro);
  6. If you like a more interleaved practice choose only 3 or 4 topics and work on each randomly throughout each 25 minute session.

Despite the fact that each of us has a personal length for recovery it seems quite universal that the more intense the activity and engagement is the more recovery rest is needed.

More so, what we do in our rest periods seems to have great impact in our ability to re-connect further on up the road. Are we actually resting and re-fuelling the mind and body? Do we take the time to meditate, breathe fresh air, take a walk, have a chat with a friend, stretch, eat, drink water… unwind and switch to defuse mode?

Or are we toasting the last brain cells we’ve got left with a stressful argue, intense puzzle or quiz solving, strenuous physical activities, anxious email/phone call/Facebook checking or attending noisy rooms?

Keep in mind that when deliberate focusing your attention into the instrument you microscopically funnel brain resources into one specific action: Precision and accuracy of movement, aka: Mastery.

Rest, on the other hand, allows your brain to unwind and release that specific area of your brain by going into defuse mode. This is where you connect several unrelated chunks or ideas and come up with new and original perspectives and solutions.

The mindless theory

If the need for rest is a sign of boredom or disengagement consequent of the repetition process of the practice session, then another strategy will come in handy.

Step by step, the unfamiliar or demanding musical phrase becomes accessible and, eventually, routine. Here’s were attention fades out and we start daydreaming.

“Nothing fails like success” (Robin Sharma). It’s true! Once you nail it you start getting sloppy. You think it’s ok to miss one routine or workout and soon you’ll be missing a whole practice session. You become used to it, you’ve grown accustomed to it and it’s not challenging anymore… “The Thrill is Gone” (B.B. King).

The trick is to play it like a video game. When it becomes manageable you switch from Rookie to All-Star and eventually to Hall Of Fame level. Gradually increase the amount of musical elements in your playing and your interest in the practice session will remain longer.

1 – Start by playing a musical phrase;

2 – Add rhythmical nuances, make it swing, make it groovy;

3 – Build on dynamics (legato, staccato, pick, thumb, bend, slide, hammer-on, pull-off, octave);

4 – Ear it in your mind before playing it;

5 – Sing it;

6 – Focus on any body tension;

7 – Build speed.

Oh, here’s my Pomodoro ringing again! That’s it for today. Class dismissed. See you next Sunday 🙂

Top Performers Strategies: 5 – Strengthening Confidence

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Confidence is one of the winners’ mental characteristics which plays bigger part in one’s development and growth. Confidence is like the Sun which all other character traits circle around.

The way you move, the way you talk to yourself, the way you face adversity, the way you expose yourself to new things, challenges and perspectives, and even the way you build your relationships can come from and resolve to different places according your confidence levels.

Confidence, a.k.a. self-belief is like a muscle: you’ve got to practice it. Visualization, preparation and performing experience are controllable, therefore, can change.

We are used to think about external factors like positive feedback, compliments or achieving results as the main confidence builder. On the other hand, failure and mistakes are commonly perceived as confidence busters. But that does not tell you the whole story… In fact, the internal factors (the way we treat ourselves) are much more decisive to our confidence.

So, how do you effectively start strengthening your confidence?

1 – Pay attention to your self-talk. Don’t you find people who are constantly ruminating about past events, traumatic episodes, misfortune, criticizing and complaining about their lives pretty much exhausting?

Your mind is always there with you. Do you know what it is saying to you right now? Avoid self-recrimination and pointing fingers to evidence of bad outcomes from your actions. Educate your mind by learning how it perceives things and talks to you. Let your mind be your best friend, your number one supporter, not some energy draining, uninspired tool to bring you down.

Mistakes happen but they can be perceived as an improving experience. Be patient with yourself. Be kind to your errors. You are the master; your mind is the disciple.

2 – Pay attention to your thoughts. Our spoken and written words are the result of our thinking. Even though we might not verbalize some bad feelings, or emotions, the fact is that they are there.

Start by identifying WHAT thoughts come to mind (when you’re practicing, when you’re resting, or even when you’re engaged in an activity and you can’t explain where did this thought came from).

Some thoughts are irrelevant or distracting, others are unhelpful or self-destructive, and others might seem too analytical or not achievable.

3 – When you start addressing to those words and thoughts it’s time to choose the ones that are actually useful and bring you a sense of competence from those harmful and self-sabotaging ones.

Think of it as opening your front door to a new person. Is he friendly or harmful? Would you invite him to come in? Changing your confidence habits starts here.

Be your own best friend. Support yourself. Cheer and celebrate tiny gains, improvements or wins. Be proud of yourself. Be patient. Give your brain time to learn new things, assimilate and replicate them. Laugh more. Wink an eye in the mirror every time you mess up. Be gentle. Accept where you are right now and you will find some peace of mind.

Confidence building starts within. It’s like the roots of a tree: the deeper they’re grounded to earth, the stronger their branches will be. No matter what wind, cold or rain may lay upon that tree, it will always be strong and healthy. It’s growth is autonomous and internal, not dependable or external.

Are you feeling more confident now? Great, but do remember, it’s not about what you have read, it’s about what you say to yourself 😉