Getting over your guilt of not practicing enough

No, this is not a post assuring you that you don’t really need to practice in order to become a better player. To get better at playing jazz requires work, and I’ve written about it herehere, and here, among many other places including the lesson on my free course Pocket Jazz called Playing Jazz is Easy (sarcasm).

Instead, I want to talk about your guilt.

I hear this a lot: “I should practice more.” Well, should you? Why? Why are you not? And while those are all good self-reflective questions, the word “should” is a red flag word.

The fact is, people need to stop “shoulding” all over themselves. “I should exercise.” “I should eat better.” “I should spend more time with my spouse/kids.” “I should read more.” The list is endless.

One way I’ll suggest that you stop the “should” guilt trap, at least about practicing (although it works for every other instance for using this word), is to ask yourself, Why are you not doing that thing you believe you ‘should’ be doing?

Why do you think you should practice more than you do? A little self-assessment is called for here. In fact, I don’t think any of us do enough of that on a regular basis.

Possible self-assessment questions:

  •  Why do I play my instrument?
  •  What is the story that my playing of music tells about me?
  •  What specifically is lacking in my playing and why does it matter to me?
  •  How would more time practicing remedy that lack?
  •  What would I be willing to give up in order to practice more?

After answering those questions, you might conclude that they only reason to practice more is to eliminate the guilt of not practicing more. Maybe you currently play well enough for what you truly want from your playing of music.

On the other hand, you might uncover some reasons to work harder on your playing that makes well-worth the sacrifice of eliminating something else in your life. You may discover that action turns shoulds into wants. Instead of, “I should practice more.”, “I want to practice more.”

Vanquish your guilt by getting to the root of why you play music, and if that reason is honestly satisfied by your current abilities, set yourself free. If not, get to work.

Resist judging yourself by comparing yourself to others. Those “others” are probably obsessing over their own models for comparison. Round and round it all goes creating a worthless spiral of dissatisfaction and guilt.

Discover what you want from your music, not what you think others expect of you. A frequent topic of my writing and teaching is: finding your musical identity and expressing it without fear. I believe that is the only state in which your best playing can shine, regardless of how well you play. In fact, I wrote a post yesterday highlighting Michael Brecker talking about this.

You deserve to play music guilt-free with satisfaction and joy. Maybe you’ll achieve that through alignment of your purpose with a satisfaction of your current playing, or may through finding new time to practice more.


2 Responses

  1. Thank you very much Michael for this message. You say this essential core so well, in so few words.

    Be humble, but never compare yourself. Otherwise, you are never better served than by yourself
    Let the music pass through us.

    Christopher (from Paris)

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