The Myth About “Discipline”

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I want to talk about a myth that I want to dispel. I’ve talked a lot about the talent myth or the myth that learning music is determined by. innate abilities. Hopefully we have thoroughly busted that one. The one I want to attack today is the myth of discipline and willpower.

That learning music is about having enough discipline to do so. That it requires enduring a certain amount of suffering. That no pain means no gain. And I want to do this because I hear from a lot of people who attribute their lack of progress in music. to a failure of willpower that they lacked the discipline needed to just sit down and practice consistently.

The perception is that those who were able to put in the time needed to develop a high level of expertise did so through sheer force of [00:01:00] will that they sat down and practiced for hours every day because they had a lot of discipline and that those who didn’t practice enough. were just too weak. And the reality could not be further from the truth.

Those who do practice day in and day out and become experts and great players don’t do so because of any unusual amounts of willpower. They do so because they love it. They do so because they’re obsessed. They do so because practicing is like eating ice cream. They can’t get enough of it. In fact, Most people who become obsessed in this way with music find it harder to stop playing than to start.

And in some cases, other parts of their life may even suffer because they don’t want to do anything else. I know that I can relate. I could play music pretty much all day every day and be quite happy. Making myself start is never the hard part. [00:02:00] Making myself stop always is, and it’s true that getting good at music, getting good at anything requires focusing on and obsessing over small details, but people who do so don’t possess the patience and determination needed.

To obsess over those finest details because they have a high pain tolerance, but rather because they love doing that. And the point of all this is that playing music should never feel like work and it should not require discipline. And so if you find yourself dreading it or having trouble motivating yourself to practice, the solution is not to figure out how to be more disciplined.

And it’s certainly not to feel guilty about not being disciplined enough. Again, your favorite players did not get that way because of discipline. They got that way because of love and passion. So the solution is to figure out why you aren’t motivated. And how to get back in [00:03:00] touch with your own love and passion for music.

And this is critical because that is the engine that drives everything. And so if it does feel like work or if it ever feels like drudgery, it’s important to stop and evaluate why, because not only will that make the whole experience of learning much more enjoyable. it’ll also make you much more likely to learn in the first place.

Fundamentally, we humans do things because we like to do those things, because they give us pleasure, and we don’t do things that we don’t like because they cause us pain of some kind. So again, our goal should never be to figure out how we can get better at enduring more pain, which is discipline, but rather to figure out what’s making it painful, eliminate that, so that once again it becomes pleasurable and irresistible.

In my experience, there are three reasons why this might be happening. Why you might find yourself unmotivated or finding playing to be unpleasant in some respect. And the first [00:04:00] reason is mindset. And there are a couple things here. The first, which I’ve talked about before, are our expectations. So, our frustration or disappointment arises from expectations, right?

And the only way it happens is when our reality doesn’t meet what we expect to happen. And all too often, that ends up impacting our feeling of self worth. And so we start associating music with those feelings, and naturally start to avoid music because we don’t like feeling that way. The solution there is to ditch the expectations, as I’ve talked about.

Everyone’s timeline of learning is different. It depends on so many factors, many of which we don’t even understand, and nobody can predict, and expectations are nothing more than a prediction about the future. Others may think that music will only be worthwhile or enjoyable when they reach a certain point or a certain level of expertise, which is always a terrible motivator because, number one, you don’t know when you reach that point, and number two, when you do reach that point, [00:05:00] Your satisfaction is going to last a few minutes and then you’re going to move the goalposts forward.

The only sustainable approach is to play music because you love to do so, regardless of where you’re at. The rewards are always going to be in the process of learning and discovery and personal growth and that happens no matter where you are on the learning timeline. In fact, as your skill levels improve, getting better means having to put in more and more time and effort for the same amount of results or the same rewards.

So if anything, being a beginner is the most rewarding time in learning an instrument or in learning any skill. The other mindset that can cause negative feelings towards practice, which I mentioned is the idea of no pain, no game. That practice must involve some level of suffering in order for it to be useful.

One of the worst ideas in all of human history. And again, of course, you’re going to [00:06:00] feel unmotivated. If you think practice requires suffering, right? Or on the flip side, if you think that if you’re enjoying yourself, then you’re probably doing something wrong. So not only is this wrong, it’s counterproductive.

We learn best when what we’re doing, when what we’re learning is enjoyable. And this idea that things that are good for us must be a little bit unpleasant is one of those nonsensical but deeply rooted ideas in society today. The reality is we’re wired to derive pleasure from the things that are good for us.

Think about how absurd it would be if that weren’t the case. If every time we walked into an open fire, it made us feel great. Or if every time we drank water when we were thirsty, we gagged. Right? We’d have gone extinct long ago if our brain was wired such that unpleasant things were good for us. The second reason why you might feel unmotivated is because you’re not progressing.

And there could be several reasons why one could be because you’re looking at the wrong metrics or the wrong scale to measure [00:07:00] progress or not tracking or measuring the right thing. So you may be progressing, maybe improving, but we don’t have a way of knowing that. It could also be that you just don’t know what you need to work on in order to move forward.

And the challenge here is that people don’t know what they don’t know, right? There can be things that you need to know in order to move forward that are holding you back, but you don’t even know that you need to know them, right? For example, it’s very common for people to focus a lot on learning the technical skills and of music, and then neglect the conceptual or perceptual skills.

And so in order to move forward, they might need to understand certain musical concepts. Or develop their ear in certain ways, but are instead focusing on learning more challenging tabs or arrangements, which isn’t going to give them the skills needed to move them forward, to get them to be able to do the things that they want to be able to do.

And again, this gets back to what I talked about in the recent episode on songs, learning songs versus learning skills [00:08:00] and the importance of understanding how to practice in a way that is in line with your musical goals. Another pretty common reason for not progressing is working on too many things simultaneously rather than working on the smallest next best thing that you need to learn to move forward.

And then the third reason why someone might not be enjoying practice is because they’re not intrinsically motivated or motivation is coming from outside of themselves. So are you learning? music because you really want to, or for some other reason. I imagine most parents out there know that it’s virtually impossible to force your kids to learn something that they’re not personally interested in or motivated to learn not without an extraordinary amount of effort and conflict.

And this is one reason why so many adults who took years of music lessons as kids, whether the violin or the piano, have little or nothing to show for it. Or likewise, how so many of us took years of foreign language classes in high [00:09:00] school with little to show. Without intrinsic motivation, learning does not stick.

So in order to learn anything, you have to care a lot about learning it. In the episode on child prodigies, I talked about how the real difference between child prodigies and non prodigies is that child prodigies have amassed an extraordinary amount. of practice on in a particular area at an early age, you know, whether that’s piano or chess and Invariably the reason is because they developed an obsessive interest in learning that thing at a very young age They cared a whole lot which drove them to practice a whole lot including Practicing while the other kids were out doing other kid things, right?

Most kids don’t get obsessed with learning the violin or the piano or math. But the occasional one does and as a result ends up with unusual skills relative to their peers. [00:10:00] Okay, so to recap Practicing music should not require discipline. Learning does not require suffering, and no pain, no gain is one of the worst ideas in human history.

And if you aren’t practicing as much as you’d like, don’t berate yourself for your lack of discipline, but instead find out why it’s not more pleasurable. You don’t ask yourself why you lack discipline to eat more ice cream. So that idea should be just as absurd when it comes to playing music. So find out why playing Isn’t feeling like eating ice cream.

Is it mindset? Is it practice related? Is it because you aren’t progressing or maybe it’s because you’re not intrinsically motivated to learn it? That the motivation to learn isn’t coming from a natural desire But from somewhere else and if that’s the case Then it’s okay to move on to something else that you do have a deep desire to learn Okay, that’s it for this episode.

If you enjoy these Brain Jo Bites, then you’ll likely enjoy the book, The Laws of Brain [00:11:00] Jo, which you can find on Amazon or wherever books are sold online. All right, I will see you in the next Brain Jo Bite. Thanks so much for listening to this episode of Brain Jo Bites. To make sure you catch future episodes, be sure to subscribe to the podcast on your podcast player.

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