Should I just practice when I'm inspired?

I'm big on following our own inspiration. So you might get the idea that you should only practice when you are inspired to do so. That would be a big mistake! True, you don't want to burn yourself out, but that's not to say that you should wait for the clouds to part and inspiration to come down and strike you on the head before you begin to practice every day. The thing is, you have to understand how motivation really works...

Most of us tend to think that motivation always precedes action. We feel an urge to do something, so we begin. But the reverse can be true as well. We may feel lukewarm about something, but we decide to do it anyway because you think we should do it. Then, as we get into it, our motivation level builds. We become more motivated, the more we get into it. Sure it's nice when motivation prompts us into action, but more often action creates motivation.

Waiting for the mood to strike you isn’t the answer, then. Sometimes you have to strike the mood. Suppose you know you probably should practice, but you don’t really feel like doing it "right now." Here’s what you do: Tell yourself, "I’ll just practice for 15 minutes." That’s easy enough, right? Sure, you could do that. But I can just hear you telling me that 15 minutes won’t make any difference. You should practice for hours, right? Let me ask you this: Can you really expect to do more than 15 minutes worth of practicing, in the next 15 minutes? Obviously not. So don’t worry about planning out the rest of your day right now, or working up a major force of will for a "big workout." Just sit down and play for 15 minutes in the next 15 minutes.

Here’s the kicker. After a few minutes, I’ll bet you start to get into it. And by the time you look at the clock, I’ll bet that 15 minutes is long gone. And you still don’t feel like quitting just yet, huh? Well then, I suppose you better just keep going for another "15 minutes." Yeah, you’re sort of lying to yourself. But not really. I mean, if after 15 minutes, you’re just not into it, you can always stop. (Yeah, right!)

This works for me sometimes because I'm a perfectionist. For those of us in that boat (and a lot of others), getting started is often the hardest part of doing anything. All of us procrastinate a bit, from time to time. This is the way to deal with it -- to get yourself to take action that you know you really should take, but just don’t have the energy to get the ball rolling. Make it easy on yourself, by reducing the task down to something that you DO have the energy to initiate.

Another thing to consider here is your setup. Make it EASY to get started. Don’t pack your guitar in its case and hide it under the bed. Keep it out on its stand, staring at you, reminding you... pleading for your attention... all plugged in and ready to rock! Set up a guitar-friendly atmosphere. Do you have a stand for your books and/or music, so you can read them comfortably with your guitar in hand? Or are you crunching over the bed, trying to read in the dark? No wonder it's hard to get though those books! Is your metronome or drum machine within reach? Is your CD player and stereo within reach? Are your pedals and effects ready to go? It’s worthwhile arranging your setup so you have all your tools at your disposal. When it's easy, getting started isn’t a big deal. Grab that guitar, hit a few switches, and you’re on! Your guitar will be sitting there, inviting you to pick it up and strum a few chords -- even if you’ve only got, say, "15 minutes" to kill.

One more thing. When you think about practicing, it’s better to say to say to yourself, "I want to practice for ‘x’ hours today," or "I choose to practice for ‘x’ hours today," and not, "I have to practice for ‘x’ hours today." What’s the difference? The first two are accurate, while the third is not. You don’t have to do anything. Nobody is putting a gun to your head. (At least I don't think so.) Seems like a small difference, I know. But words have power. We think with words. They shape our attitude, our world and ultimately, our destiny. What’s wrong with ‘have to’? It suggests that you are not in control: that the control is somewhere else, outside yourself. Over time, not feeling in control tends to make people unhappy, and tends to kill their motivation. So think about what you ‘want to’ or ‘choose to’ do and you are constantly reminding yourself that you are in control here!

Bottom Line:

When inspiration strikes, it’s a gift: take it. Do whatever you can to nurture it and keep it hangin’ around. But don’t always expect it. Sometimes you gotta do your part, too. Sometimes you need to push a little to get the ball rolling. You have to strike the mood. How? By fist reducing the task at hand to something small enough, easy enough, that you can start right now. Once you’re started, you’ll probably get into it and your motivation will build. Second, keep your guitar out and ready to go, and keep all your ‘tools’ together in one place so it’s always easy to get started. Finally, remember that you ‘choose to’ practice: you don’t ‘have to’ do anything.

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