Have you lost your motivation for practice?

This is the fourth in a special series of episodes on how to tackle the biggest sticking points in your music learning. We recently surveyed our audience to learn about their experiences with music practice. The results were astounding! Across several hundred responses, we found a handful of really common and painfully frustrating practice issues – including, “I feel bad because I don’t practice enough”

To answer these big burning questions, we invited Gregg Goodhart, The Learning Coach, back on the show. Gregg is a leading expert on how to apply all of the latest scientific research and understanding of how the brain learns to skill acquisition, including in music.

After watching this episode you’ll regain your enthusiasm for learning music.

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Christopher: Absolutely. One thing that really hit me in the heart reading through these responses was about enthusiasm and motivation. And people who were clearly passionate about their hobby, passionate enough to spend five, 10 minutes writing survey responses for us about their music practice, they would be talking in terms of blaming themselves and getting very down on themselves about not following through with practice. “I should be doing this much, or if only I could keep at it, or I’m lazy, or if I just had the discipline.”, and definitely seeing it as, “I must put in this work every day and I’m not doing it therefore I’m bad.” And I wonder if we could talk a little bit about motivation and what people can do to help themselves feel enthusiasm and eagerness to practice rather than always feeling like this burden that they have to do.

Gregg: Well, it’s very, very hard to continue with the bucket inside of the boat getting the water out when the boat is sinking much faster than you can bucket the water out and you get less and less enthusiastic as the boat goes down. And at some point you say, “I just accept my fate. The boat is going down.” But that’s not what has to happen at all. In fact, there’s a misunderstanding out there that I think many people believe, I think some teachers believe, I’ve heard it expressed as where there is enthusiasm, there is achievement. It’s actually the opposite. Where there is achievement, there is enthusiasm.

Gregg: And small ways, such as applying contextual interference, that’s why I do that, in practiclasses, when you realize in a few minutes, when I say, not three minutes, but 10 or 15, when you realize that in a few minutes, you can become insanely better than you’ve been able to do with months of practice, that provides a whole lot of motivation. I’ll give you an example from the research. There was a researcher, I believe he did this in the UK, Barry J. Zimmerman, and I’d be happy to share this information with anybody, who did a study and he took two groups of women and I believe he went to a pub, and it was dart throwing. And he took one group to throw darts and just said, “Figure it out. Enjoy yourself, figure it out.” I don’t think they were drinking at the pub because not that you shouldn’t have a good time, but that would-

Christopher: I don’t think you know the rules of darts in the UK. If you don’t have a pint in the other hand, it doesn’t count.

Gregg: Yeah, no pints in your hand when you’re practicing. And so anyway, he had one group just try and of course they improved a little and they had an okay time. And he had another group specifically following, and who wants to learn darts that way? Specifically follow instructions, where they were shown by someone who knew what to do and what to teach, “Do this, do that, hold it this way, throw it that way.”

Gregg: And these were people, these women had no interest in darts whatsoever. They did not like it. They had no desire. And so, they knew they were doing experiments and they participated. What he found that happened consistently was the group that got better through instruction very much wanted, not only to play darts, because they had increased their skill, they wanted to learn more. They didn’t just want to play with the skill they had, they wanted more of the tedious, “Hold your dart this way.”, thing and do it five times in a row. They wanted more of that instruction, because they felt internally the results of that.

Gregg: It’s one thing to practice and practice. Again, I’ve called this the play and pray method, where we go into our practice, and we just aren’t sure what to do. And we hope we get results. And you know what? Sometimes three days later, we can play something. And a lot of times we can’t. I don’t know how anyone… I admire all the people who somehow stay motivated and keep looking when you can’t find the answers. Imagine what happens when you can find the answers. And that’s what the research shows, and as I say, where there’s achievement, there is interest. So once you start to achieve, so it’s a small hump, it just takes a little bit, if you look at my practiclasses, 20 or 25 minutes, a small hump to do that when you realize that every minute of your practice doesn’t have to be a mystery, it can be a problem solved. And you can guarantee that you’ll get to the next place. That creates motivation like crazy.

Gregg: What will happen if you have trouble getting yourself to practice? And I’m sure we may talk about that. If you have problems getting yourself to practice, there are ways to go about doing that, such as working on orienting selective attention. But one of the reasons is because you’re not getting out of it what you want, and the only reason I stayed with it is because I’m stubborn. And I just wouldn’t stop even though, as many of us feel, the universe is telling me, “Sir, you don’t have talent. Any reasonable person would give up by now. Just be happy you can go get a job being a teacher and stop trying to be so good.”

Gregg: And that’s what the universe will tell you. That’s what it feels like. When we flip that feeling to, “Oh my gosh, my capabilities are far more than I thought. And the reason I believe this is because I actually did something I could never do before.” And it looks like there are solutions for everything, and then when that solution runs out it turns out there’s another solution on top of that. Your practice minutes will increase without you knowing it. What happens is you enter into a flow state. We’ve all been there where you work on something, whether it’s practice, or a woodworking project, or working on your free throws in basketball, whatever it may be, where we do it and we think it’s been 10 minutes and we look up and it’s been 50 minutes or an hour.

Gregg: That is the highest state of learning. And there is a researcher, his name is Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, spelled just like it sounds, his name is Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi and he spent his career figuring out what that is. How do you get into that state where learning is actually you’re wrapped up in it so much? He calls it flow, and what it is is you have to gain some skill first, and then your skill navigates the problems like this. My skill is better, now my skill is worse, not my skill is better. To get there you have to acquire some basic skill where there is achievement, then there is interest you enter into flow. And this is totally creatable if you follow the right process

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