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How to Practice Consistently (with Mini Habits)

May 4, 2018, 2:46 AM ·

Imagine a ship navigating hectic waters. The sailor becoming one with the raft as he rides and reacts to each unique bump. His actions executing automatically. Hundreds of hours of training gave him the tools to keep that ship sailing under stress. But if the health of the ship collapses, the sailor's training is of no use. He must now focus on fixing whatever got broken. The expert in sailing is no longer sailing. He's distracted fixing something out of his expertise.

To an audience, the sailor may look like he's cruising around. But he is actually triggering effective motions learned over years. He spent long hours studying his craft. He learned about those invisible forces that attack when we decide to turn pro. Abstract enemies no one talks about. Pirates so sneaky that untrained eyes would never detect them.

You can't see them. But they are two of the fattest pimps running the waters of practice-land. Their pirate names are Resistance and Guilt. And they know how and when to get you. To steal your gold, they need to wait for Love—your biggest ally— to vanish. Usually, that's when you get distracted, sick, tired, or in a bad mood. They smell your vulnerable blood like sharks. And before you know it, the enemy takes your golden energy, will-power, and focus.

Ghosts like these attack every musician. And yet few of us discuss their existence. We hear about Love (for the craft), but even that is unclear. How do we stay "in Love"? How do we use Love to fight Resistance and Guilt? Luckily, there are great resources available. Books and literature on how to sink that pirate ship. One of my personal favorites is a book called Mini Habits.

Mr. Guise changed my practice (and I dare say life) with his book Mini Habits. A Mini Habit consists of one daily (and mandatory) repetition of something. One push up a day, one minute of practice a day, etc. Classical musicians will panic right about now. No need to. The strategy is to practice a minimum of one minute a day for the next four to six months. You can still put in four hours a day if you like. But only one of those minutes is going to be mandatory. The other three hours and fifty-nine minutes will be called bonus repetitions.

In my experience, building a strong practice habit could take up to four months. I mean, to really have it ingrained in your brain. If you are classically trained, like me, you'll have a tough time believing in the power of one minute. Well, after reading Mini Habits, I started my one minute practice on Sundays (which I always took off). I ended up practicing like 10 to 15 minutes. And that's what we are after...the side effects of showing up. One minute will almost never be a minute. It's an easy way to build consistency while having it easy on Sundays (or the day you take off). This commitment helped me practice consistently, more focused, and more pumped. 

If everything goes well, you'll sink the pirates. But you are not done yet. The enemy will soon send Temptation to go check up on you. Unlike Resistance and Guilt, she will show up on good practice days and pretend to be an ally (but she's no Love). She will lure you into raising your mandatory minute into five minutes a day (or more) because, damn, you are on fire. She will try to convince you that one minute is a joke. But you know it's not. There is no need to increase your (1) mandatory minute. Increase your bonus repetitions! Stay longer once you show up to practice. Remember, Mini Habits sink the pirates and the bonus repetitions take care of your growth.

Want to you push the boundaries over time? 

Buy a cheap kitchen timer and track your bonus minutes. Remember that the fastest way from point A to point B is a straight line. Taking a curve is a waste of time. That's what happens when musicians practice without a strategy. For now, we are after consistency. Our strategy is to practice a minimum of one minute every single day.  You can't work on quality without quantity. So showing up is the most important thing to become better musicians. Later, you can worry about how effective your practice sessions are. Keep tracking your bonus minutes and showing up in the practice room. Keep studying your behavior and energy levels. Keep reading everything you can on performance and practicing, and learning about strategy. As long as you are uncomfortable and showing up in the practice room, you are growing. Even if that's one minute. Forget about arriving and focus on today, now, the journey. As an artist, there will always be room for improvement. Might as well enjoy it.



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