I’ve written about habits and even dedicated a lesson to the topic within my Improvisation Savvy course, but it is the compounding effects of habitual behavior that I want to explore with you. They are surprisingly powerful in elevating your skills as a musician and in other important areas of your life.
Most of us are aware of the compound effect of interest on money, but let’s look at the compounding effect on other things in our lives.
Read only 30 minutes each day and you will have read around 1,000 books after 30 years. Think of how well read you’d be after 1,000 well-chosen books. Consider the knowledge you’d have gained on a wide range of topics or the specialized expertise on which you’d be able to capitalize!
Researchers have shown that people make, on average, 35,000 decisions each day. Imagine the compounding effect of improving just a tiny portion of those decisions through being clearer on goals and by implementing higher quality habitual behavior.
For the moment, set aside the benefits to your musical prowess, and consider the long-term compounding effects of habitually:
- Scheduling one special date night each and every month with your spouse (happier and longer lasting relationship).
- Recognizing the accomplishment of one colleague/direct report each week (higher employee morale).
- Eating one main meal each week comprised exclusively of fresh greens and other vegetables (keeping healthier and living longer).
- Reading 30 minutes to your young child every night (smarter son or daughter).
- Exercising 30 minutes every day (more energy and longer life).
- Finding and repairing one small aspect of your home each weekend (better functioning and higher value home).
- Selling or throwing out one no longer used or broken possession each month or week if you have many (living more efficiently).
Regarding the improvement of your musical skills, consider the compounding effects of:
- Practicing a minimum of 15-30 minutes every day no matter what (better and more satisfying playing).
- Learning one new tune really well each month (better at jam sessions and more knowledgeable musician).
- Writing one simple song each month (more skilled writer with a large repertoire).
- Practicing one session each week in a location other than your usual space (more enjoyable practice and better perspective on your playing).
- Digging up and playing from a music method book hiding in the bottom of the pile or in the back of the closet once every couple of weeks (more interesting, beneficial, and varied practicing).
- Logging into a music instruction subscription you’ve neglected to engage in once each week (becoming a better player and increasing the return on your investment).
- Discovering and listening to one new musician you’ve never before heard (more acute musicianship and a better player).
I do not think discipline plays as much of a role in the lives of people who live by consistently good habits as is commonly thought.
The question you might ask at this point is, okay Mike, those are all good suggestions but how do I make any of them into a habit? If I really wanted to do things like exercising daily, I’d already be doing it.
Wrong. Do you really think most of us do all of the things we know we should be doing? We are experts at creating all sorts of reasons to avoid doing things.
I heard an interview with a close friend of Elon Musk who said one of the most unique aspects of Elon is that he is not afflicted with this mindset. He determines what he needs to do and then almost robotically goes about doing them all. Not that his efforts are robotic, just that once he makes a decision, his decision to take action is automatic.
In the end, you have to find the strategy that works for you, but let me offer a few that have worked for me and others.
Be clear and sincere about your desired big-picture end-result for various aspects of your life. Without clarity on the location of the goal post, you’ll have a much harder time doing the tough consistent work of moving the ball up the field for a touchdown.
I have many things I want to accomplish while still on this planet including seeing my boys live out much of their life. That outcome makes it easier to eat primarily clean food, exercise daily, and sleep well each night monitored by a health wearable.
Without my clarity of my desired outcomes, there’s no way I’d muster up the discipline to habitually eat, sleep, and exercise as I do. Yes, I’m lazy!
Are you serious about wanting to be a much better musician? WHY? WHAT do you want out of your music? WHEN do you want it?
Yes, fear is a great motivator.
Personally, I fear a life-shortening debilitating illness which runs through my family and that keeps me eating, exercising, and sleeping well.
I fear showing up to a rehearsal or gig not playing at my best which keeps me practicing. I fear losing my active and passive income from my business endeavors which keeps me learning and producing. And I fear losing my self image as accomplished and capable which keeps me reading, writing, and striving for more.
Fear can be harmful if it becomes disconnected from reality, so it’s important to distinguish between the rational fear of things you can prevent from happening, and irrational fears of arbitrary occurrences beyond your control. Become aware of a fear of something within your control and then connect it to habitual activities that can protect you.
Holding yourself accountable to others is a powerful motivator. I wrote, recorded, and released over 50 pieces of music over a four-year period primarily because of my promise to subscribers that they would get one piece each and every month if they shared with me thier email address. My commitment to thousands of these accountability buddies held me to my daily creation discipline.
Post on social media some goal you have and commit to posting specific public deliverables. Publically announcing my Jazz Master Summit kept me on track to interview 60 musicians.
If you have children, you probably (hopefully) see how living with them holds you accountable for consistently maintaining the home, demonstrating proper behavior toward others, and good personal habits for well-being.
An interesting example of accountability involves a writer I know who has his assistant sit by him during his morning 4-hour writing period. Just knowing she is there watching his screen while she does her work keeps him in the chair writing. Without her, he might get up after convincing himself he didn’t need to write any more that day.
There’s no need to feel bad if you find yourself not always doing the things you know you should be doing. We’re not really hardwired to do difficult tasks with rewards that come to us after years of hard effort.
We, as humans, are built to conserve energy and fulfill our short-term needs by doing immediate activities. Hunt now to eat now. That’s how we’ve survived over these past few hundred thousand years. The idea of saving money and accruing compound interest over several decades is a very recent invention, as is buzzing into a metal funnel called a mouthpiece for a portion of each day to reach the goal of achieving an identity called a musician at some distant time in the future.
I think once we realize that we’re going against the grain of our hunter-gatherer ancestors, we can better empathize with our struggle and discover how to best use the leverage of clarity of outcome, fear, and accountability to help ourselves act better for our long-term interests. After all, few of us possess Elon Musk’s superpower!
Embrace the compound interest of long-range habits and you will start to see/hear real improvements in those important areas of your life.