Life is a Paradox
The more you chase something, the further it gets away from you.
To be productive, start with the hardest task ... or easiest one.
The less you care about your upcoming recital performance ... the better you'll do.
Ever notice how life is chockfull of contradictions? With so much contrary advice, how do you discern what to listen to?
Here's the answer: both sides of the coin are true.
Life is a marathon and a sprint.
Yet we have a really hard time believing this because we want permanence - things to stay the same.
Mainstream advice is full of this stuff.
Do what you're passionate about. No pain no gain. Just work hard for 10 years and you'll succeed.
But it rarely works out that way, just practicing as hard as possible doesn't mean you'll get as good as you want.
And unfortunately a lot of people stick to this script and end up wasting years of their life (like me).
Echo Chamber of One
It happens because of confirmation bias - we look for signs we're doing something correctly, instead of questioning what we're doing wrong.
What's so dangerous about this type of thinking?
It's because whatever you look for you'll find it. You'll see evidence everywhere that supports your viewpoint even when it's not there.
A story from my college years:
There was usually one, important event my piano colleagues looked forward to after each of our solo recitals - the reception.
It was a sacred tradition - anyone who dared to not feed their audience would risk ostracism.
Anyways, my wife noticed that there was one particular non-piano major (even musicians have their cliques) who attended every piano recital.
Whatever the word for free-loader is in Chinese, that's what she called him.
But I told her to hold that thought. Maybe it's true, maybe it's not - you never know what a person's going through.
And hey, at least he was there at the very beginning of each concert (instead of showing up for the last half).
Fast forward a few years, we saw his photo prominently displayed ... on the cover of our college newspaper.
This young man managed to graduate at the top of his class, while being homeless - at times he had to resort to sleeping in the school's practice rooms!
Then it dawned on us - he had been coming to the receptions because that might have been his only meal for the day.
Like I mentioned, you never know what a person is going through.
By the way, I am no saint. There has been many a time where my wife has been the rational one while I have jumped to conclusions. I still have a better track record though (do not tell her).
So how do you keep from jumping to conclusions?
First, get outside opinions as frequently as possible. Solicit advice from people whenever you can.
If you don't do this, it means you're only considering your own viewpoint.
But be selective with your sources - don't get coding advice from a florist.
What will most likely happen is you'll find people who agree with your idea and people who don't. And if their opinions are roughly split down the middle, you can weigh all the options and go with your gut.
This is the balance you're looking for.
But let's say you've recorded a performance of yourself and 9 out of 10 people think it's not too hot.
In this scenario, it's safe to go with the consensus.
However, it's not always going to map out this way, you'll intuitively learn when to trust yourself or the group.
Second, set deadlines (while experimenting as much as possible).
The biggest mistake of my life, one you'll do well to avoid, was spending too much time on one thing without looking at the results.
Since then, I've adopted a 90-day rule: whatever goals I have, I sit down every 3 months to analyze my progress.
So whatever goals you have with piano, make sure you have clear, measurable metrics to make judgments with.
Look at the data objectively because the tape doesn't lie.
What Goes Up Must Come Down
Now, here's one last way to safeguard against confirmation bias.
It's a secret weapon I use to avoid overconfidence and negative expectations.
Whatever happens, I imagine the opposite.
This tactic works because it allows you to eliminate assumptions by expecting the unexpected. It continues our theme of balance - keeping yourself going too far in one direction or the other.
If you have a successful consultation with a new client, tell yourself it probably didn't work out and they won't sign up.
No matter how long you've been teaching a student, there's always a possibility they can quit at any time without prior warning.
But remember this also helps for when you're down and out.
For example, when it comes to piano performances I somehow always manage to underestimate myself. The performance is never as bad as I imagine and I have to remind myself the result is going to be better than I think.
So take this concept and apply to areas where you know you should be more confident about your skills.
And this contrarian mindset is especially handy for the most menacing situation of all - success.
Success is treacherous because it causes most people to fail (see: confirmation bias). I've done this many a time in my life. When business was booming, I had a full studio and my finances were looking great.
Then ... BOOM!
Something terrible would cut me down to size, I lost students I got cocky or I wasn't as good with numbers as I initially thought (I've learned to budget since then).
Nothing makes you fail like success.
So realize that staying successful is the end goal - that's when all the hard work begins.
Most of it has to do with keeping your ego in check.
I hope you enjoyed today read. If you learned something today, leave a comment or connect with me on social media.
Late last Tuesday night I received this notification.
My first donation!
To Bill: words cannot express how much gratitude I feel - both for your gift and your kind words.
Seriously, I've been on cloud nine this entire week.
So thank you Bill, I wish nothing but success on your journey. Kudos to you for sticking with it for 18 months, at nearly 70 years young no less!
You're a true inspiration and I hope you update me on your progress in the near future.
P.S. I've got even more exciting stuff to share with you next week, stay tuned!
Life is a Paradox
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