Tag Archives: joy

Practice Makes Perfect? It Depends.

Bulletproof Musician recently wrote this insightful blog post about how to practice effectively.  Perhaps surprisingly, the most important factor doesn’t turn out to be length of practice time, or making few mistakes to begin with.  Rather, improvement made during practice depends on how mistakes are addressed.

Progress appears to hinge on the proportion of times that a passage is played correctly.  Musicians who stop immediately to understand and correct mistakes, drilling the same passage at a slower tempo until they have mastered it, do best.  Those who plow through without taking time to understand the exact nature of the mistake do not fare as well.

This may sound like a basic insight, and it is indeed straightforward.  It surprises me, though, that practice length and willpower (a limited resource) are relatively unimportant.  Rather, awareness, focus, and corrective action are paramount.  If our brains don’t consciously understand what mistake was made, we’ll continue to repeat it.  Only by slowing down and figuring it out will we correct it.

I am an imperfect student of the organ, which has become my favorite instrument.  I have alternated between taking lessons with a very accomplished organist (and very talented teacher) and studying on my own; currently I do the latter.  When I practice, I have some structures in place to keep me honest, such as tracking length of time and the pieces that I practice in a notebook.

I do repeat difficult passages several times, often playing just the pedals, then adding one hand at a time.  I do slow down the tempo so my brain can process what I’m doing wrong, and correct it.

However, full disclosure:  I don’t do these things consistently.  It can be tempting and way too much fun to zoom through Bach preludes & fugues as though skiing on a black diamond.  If I wipe out, I may have no idea what happened to get me there, and often little desire to be a detective about it.

I don’t want to return to the bunny slopes.  I want to go down a double black diamond again like the big kids, whether or not I’m ready for it.

Playing brings me joy.  When I practice today, it’s first and foremost because I love doing it, not because anyone is demanding that I do it.  Playing well, however, also brings me confidence and satisfaction.  My choice lies in how to preserve the joy and spontaneity of playing for fun, expression and enjoyment, at the same time challenging myself to be rigorous and set the bar high.

In July, I had an opportunity to substitute for St. Anthony’s organist and music director in Jersey City  for two weeks.  It was a memorable experience, playing sacred music in support of a full choir.  Playing with the registration to find the right mixture of sounds, choosing interludes, and conducting a cappella motets all come to mind.

What stands out the most for me, though, is that I was able to play Bach’s Prelude and Fugue in G Minor as a postlude.  I wouldn’t have been able to do that six months prior.  It felt like a crown, a gift that I was able to share with others.  I wouldn’t have had that to offer if I’d only zipped down the black diamonds like a speed demon.  Methodically slowing down–having the patience, humility and trust to do so–got me to that point.

A confession–I will still play at times like a black diamond skiier.  But the more I realize I have it in my power to play well, the more I want to get curious enough to slow down and figure out the parts of a piece that are befuddling me.

My coaching practice is called Passion + Persistence for a reason.  Identifying what makes us truly alive and sticking with it (rather than getting derailed) enables us to achieve our life purpose.  In the case of music, I could have also named it Practice + Persistence–which apply to so many areas of life!

One reason that I’m challenged to write my blog as often as I did in the past is that I have many creative outlets (such as music).  I’m grateful to say that I feel fulfilled.  Yet it helps to remind myself that like music, there is no “should” about writing.  I enjoy expressing myself through both music and writing, and using them as mediums for connecting with others.

Music, writing, coaching, and connecting with people make me truly alive.  What lights you up?  I’d love to hear from you.

Warmly, Mary

Advertisements

In Pursuit of Health and Wellness

As a wellness coach, I help my clients achieve their health and wellness goals.  This topic is near and dear to my heart. While mixed messages abound, society mostly discourages us from living healthfully.  Not only are we surrounded by processed food, but we’re often asked to be superhuman or machine-like, ignoring our physical and emotional needs.  However, our needs are not luxuries–they matter.

Wellness is one of the most important foundations of my own life.  When I sleep 8 hours, eat nutritiously, limit caffeine, and exercise regularly, I feel at my best.  My thinking is clearer, my energy higher, and I’m more tapped into my own creative force.  When I feel healthy, I show up better in my relationships.  I see my career-related options more clearly.

Is it static?  No–wellness has looked different at different points of my life.  At one time, it meant rigor and challenge–training for 10K’s and a half-marathon.  Other times, it has meant more variety, alternating short runs with kickboxing, rowing, or pilates.  It has also meant doing yoga a few times a week, or swimming regularly.

Living a healthy lifestyle is a fluid, often intuitive process.  While there are some good habits I need to do everyday (flossing, anyone?), as my life and needs change, I also change how I address my needs.  I get to choose how much consistency, challenge, fun, and novelty I want at any given time in my active, healthy life.  Am I bored?  Maybe a 3-hour hike in the woods is in order.  Am I tired?  Maybe an easy swim is just what I need.

Wellness also includes managing stress.  At times of stress, I’ve been tempted to over-caffeinate, under-sleep, and under-exercise.  When I don’t de-stress well, I neglect to find time to relax–taking walks in the park or meditating, for example.  Skimping on sleep and ramping up on caffeine or sugar never turns out well.  When I try to cope with life in those ways, I’m trying to do more than is humanly possible.

The truth is, basic human needs matter, and they don’t go unmet without consequences.  If I deny them, I feel a deficit–whether the deficit is sleep, nutrition, or having fun.  If that deficit persists, it affects all areas of my life.

These days, life looks different.  Nurturing myself is one of my top priorities, because it makes my life flourish.  Relaxing and enjoying life are key components of health and wellness.  A day that includes gardening, writing (with my calico cat keeping me company), playing the piano, or even watching “Frasier” on Netflix is a restorative day.  We all need time to pursue our interests, be in nature, and simply do things that we enjoy.

What does relaxation give us?  When we’re relaxed, we’re open to possibilities.  We experience gratitude for what is.  We’re connected to our inner selves and to others.  It gives us joy and curiosity.  We enjoy better health and more energy to refocus on what’s ahead.

What are key components of health and wellness for you?  When do you feel at your best?  What energy does that open up for you in the rest of your life?  I’d love to hear from you.  Wishing you abundant energy and good health,

-Mary

Bocci and Dancing Egrets: an Invitation to Play

I am loving that the long-awaited spring has finally returned.  NYC and Newark, like much of the country, had a particularly harsh winter.  We had our highest bill ever for the gas heating.  It was a chilly and long, if beautiful and snowy, winter.

A few clear signs that spring has arrived:  I see an occasional egret, its snowy-white body with a long neck and beak, in the Meadowlands of NJ from the train.  The cherry blossoms are (finally) beginning to bloom.  Independence Park across the street is teeming with people playing catch, shooting hoops, and–most notably–there are usually three or four soccer games going on simultaneously.

A new sign of spring this year–bocci games in the park.  Several of us use a site called Nextdoor to share local happenings, and I was delighted to see an open invitation on the site to come play bocci on the weekend.

You may ask, what do egrets and bocci have in common?  Playfulness and joyful presence.

During winter, many of us huddled indoors, conserving energy.  The warmth of spring is an invitation to play.  Whether the egret doing its little dance, flapping its wings, or whether the bocci and soccer players in the park, play allows us to be present, to enjoy our surroundings and the activity we’re engaged in.  Play lets us abandon our worries and immerse ourselves in the pure joy of living.

If I were writing a word-chain, it would be something like:  play-nature-joy-peace-movement.  Physical movement helps us not to stay stuck in tired mental or emotional energy.  When walking in the woods or splashing in water, we let it go.  We move into a new energy.

Play also lets us be creative, spontaneous, open to new ideas.  How could that not spill over into the rest of our lives?  When we’re open to being playful, we see creative possibilities that before, we were unable to see.  We can be more flexible at work.  We see new ways to be healthy–solutions, rather than problems.

So enjoy the unveiling of spring, and let yourself be carried away by the sheer beauty of it–fragrant cherry blossoms, yellow wildflowers, dancing egrets and all.

Reaching for the Stars

I have always been an amateur psychology buff.  In college, I had a class in perceptual psychology,  but mostly I have dabbled in it on my own.  It is part of what led me to coaching.  I am endlessly curious about how our minds work, how we see the world and interpret what we see–what information we gather, and what meaning we assign to that information.

Over the years I have taken a few personality surveys.  I have also encouraged my loved ones to take them, with varying responses.  They aren’t for everyone, and that’s OK.  Personally, I find it fascinating to reflect on what drives and motivates us, what makes us flourish.

I find Myers-Briggs (MBTI) to be revealing and mostly on-point.  Like any paradigm, it has its limitations, but most of its insights resonate with me.  I took the MBTI twice, several years apart.  Interestingly, while my overall type hadn’t changed, my Intuition (I) and Judgment (J) factors had both mellowed considerably–allowing more room for their counterparts, Sensing (S) and Perceiving (P).  I believe we have innate preferences, but through our experiences and choices in how to see and engage with the world, we change.

Another survey I like is the VIA Character Strengths Survey, which measures 25 character strengths and lists them in relative proportion.  My top strength was “Appreciation of Beauty & Excellence,” followed by “Gratitude,” “Love,” and “Perspective.”  For me, this test is revelatory because it points to what I need to flourish–where I thrive and what saves me, as it were.  My top strengths remind me that to be happy, and fully myself, I need to seek opportunities to enjoy beauty, to love and be loved, and to practice gratitude.

How do I do this?  For example, taking my top strength, I look for oases of beauty in the drought of what could otherwise be a sterile week:

  • On a lunch break, I find refuge in a park around the corner with a waterfall and yellow hyacinths in bloom.  It truly restores me.
  • I make time to play the piano, organ, and sing.  Even on a busy weeknight, if fills me up and I leave feeling like myself again.
  • I listen to and watch others who are more talented than I am.  It inspires me and makes me feel alive.

Looking at our less-developed strengths is also a good learning opportunity.  One of my “less developed” strengths is “Bravery.”  The creators of the VIA survey write: “Identify an area in which you generally shy away from confrontations.  Practice the phrases, the tones, and the mannerisms that will enable you to effectively confront the situation next time.”

My first reaction to reading that was, “Are you kidding?”  Identifying confrontations is about the last thing I want to do.  My mind isn’t naturally wired for it.  Nonetheless, our minds are pliable–we can actually forge new neural pathways by changing our thoughts and habits.

And thus, we change and grow.

stars

Coaching asks for openness to seeing ourselves as we are today, seeing ourselves at our most magnificent core, and dedicating ourselves to moving bravely toward our truest self.  It can be a little scary.  At my Fulfillment class at CTI, one of the leaders drew this picture of our comfort zone, with stars outside of it, illustrating that to reach for the stars, we have to step outside our comfort zone.

So, if we’re uncomfortable, we’re doing something right.  Yet we don’t have to be constantly uncomfortable.  We’re allowed to take a step or two forward and stay there–or dance up and down the steps we’re familiar with–till we’ve gathered the resolve to take another step.  We get to be at choice.

CTI led us in a visioning exercise to develop a life purpose, phrased as “I am the ___ that ___.”  I was initially drawn to the image of a lighthouse, that illuminates others’ strengths.  Later, I was drawn to the vision of a lake where I canoed in rural Quebec, out of which came this working life purpose statement: “I am the deep lake that holds beauty within and around it.”

What does it mean and what is its impact?  I can honestly say that I don’t completely know, but that it centers and directs my life journey.  There is something compelling about the beauty of nature, art, music and writing that inhabits me–even simply the appreciation thereof.  What does it mean to hold beauty?  I hold it in my eye, ear, mind, and heart.  How will it impact others?  That story is still unfolding.

What are your top strengths and values, that when engaging in them, you feel the most like yourself?  Who are you at your deepest, most magnificent core?

I’d love to offer a sample phone call to explore your values and what you most want.  What matters?  What are you drawn to?  Call or email me to set up a session to move toward the stars.

Freedom: Envisioning the Life You Want

In my first post on this blog, “Living Joyfully,” I shared that each year I choose a word to set an intention for my year ahead, and that in 2013 it was “joy.”  What I didn’t share was that in addition to the word I choose for myself, a dear friend and mentor also gives me a word; her word to me was “faith.”  I have been practicing these a day at a time, perfectly imperfectly.

In 2014, my word for myself is “compassion,” both for myself and for others.  I can only be as compassionate with other people as I’m being with myself.  If I’m hard on myself, telling myself that I’m not progressing fast enough on my goals, and using negative self-talk, guess what?  I’m usually hard on others, too.  Whether or not I say so, I can start thinking as if I know what they should be doing, which is always a dangerous place to go.

On the other hand, when I’m gentle with myself, I’m able to be more loving and accepting of others.  Sometimes that means using self-talk as if I were an 8-year-old girl.  If I forget to bring or do something, if my first thought is, “of course you forgot,” I’ll tell myself, “re-do,” as bravery coach Kate Courageous blogs about.  Then I literally tell myself, “it’s okay, sweetie, here we go…”  As ridiculous as it might feel at first to talk to yourself as if you were 8 years old, it’s even more ridiculous to address yourself in a way that’s shaming.  (Brené Brown has written powerfully and prolifically on the impact of shaming language.)

My mentor’s word for me in the coming year is “freedom.”  I probably wouldn’t have chosen this word for myself, which is why she’s my mentor.  We hear a lot about freedom in this country.  The Bill of Rights enumerates several freedoms we possess:  speech, religion, press, assembly, and others.  When I drive on the BQE (Brooklyn Queens Expressway) or take the Staten Island Ferry, I enjoy seeing the Statue of Liberty, that iconic gift of the French to Americans.  We take these political rights for granted today; of course I can write a letter to a newspaper; of course I can go to any church to worship.

Yet what else can freedom represent in my life?  How can I move toward greater freedom, to come more fully into the person I was made to be, so that I can have an amazing life, and be of greater service to others?  What limiting beliefs are stopping me from embracing an even more amazing, truly free life?

In the disciplines of psychology and coaching, much is said of the limiting belief of scarcity:  not having enough, and not being enough.  It seems part of the human condition that these fears rear their ugly heads subconsciously at least some of the time for most of us.  As Brené Brown  identifies, the simple act of articulating our fears or feelings we’re ashamed of having, and particularly sharing them with someone we trust, weakens them.

Once I identified “I won’t have enough” as an under-the-surface limiting belief, I was able to construct a positive belief to replace it:  “everything I need will be provided.”  This lets me choose to focus on a positive, rather than a negative, belief.

There is always presence and absence in our lives.  Our perspectives are simply the result of a decision of where to place our attention.  When we focus on absence, we experience more absence.  If we focus on what is present in our lives, we attract even more abundance and life keeps getting bigger.

What’s a limiting belief that’s holding you back?  How would it feel to counter it with a positive belief?  Please comment and share!

Living Joyfully

Each January, I choose a word for myself to set an intention and a tone for my year ahead.  Over the past year, my word has been “joy.”  I’ll be the first to admit I don’t feel joyful every minute of every day.  It can be easy to get distracted by dirty dishes, vague fears, or even a rainy day.  I can momentarily lose my focus.

But more and more often, I find that the negative stuff that stands in the way of living more joyfully–boredom, fear–is just that, momentary.  And they can be great teachers.  If I feel anxious about the future, I can use my senses to bring me back to the present.  If I’m lonely, I know how to pick up the phone and call someone I care about.  Rather than stuff the initial feeling, I’m learning to get really curious and invite in what it can teach me.

I’m more comfortable than I’ve ever been acknowledging I don’t know what the future will bring.  I no longer even want this superhuman ability.  I want to be fully present in this day.  I want to receive the gift of moving through an uncomfortable feeling, not judging but befriending it, and taking baby steps to move into a better place.

I have heard this process described as telling the feeling “thank you for sharing,” then going ahead and acting as if.  Moving through it, not being blocked by it.  When I choose to take the next right action, and the one after that, and the one after that, I’m affirming that feelings aren’t facts, and life just keeps getting bigger.

For me, that can mean bundling up and heading out on a cold night to practice the organ, even if I feel like sitting at home eating brownies, because I know once I get there, I will feel alive and will be moving toward my goals.  I will be living joyfully and in connection to my core self.

It can also mean doing most of the dishes (who needs perfectionism!), taking a hot shower, and crawling in bed with the cat for 8 hours of sleep.  Self-care can take different shapes from one day to the next.  As long as I’m moving toward my goals in the most important areas of my life over the course of a week, then I know I’m on track.  If I tell myself it’s too hard, or focus on the negative, I lose sight of the positive baby steps I’ve taken that add up over time to a fuller, more authentic life.

I’d love to hear from you!  What’s blocking you from experiencing a more joyful life?  When do you feel most joyful?