I was talking with my FLOW group recently about Practices and Projects, and thought you might enjoy this as well.
A Practice – a writing practice, a yoga practice, a meditation practice – is a habit you build, a muscle you get used to flexing. Not, I’m writing a BOOK, but I write every day. Not, I am breathing and counting to ten so I don’t SNAP, but I meditate because it’s who I am and who I want to be. You DO your practice – daily, weekly, whatever – because you want to BE someone who does that thing.
A Project has an ending. You publish the book. You perform the recital. You serve the meal. You finish the 5K.
And it’s interesting to notice which idea is the most helpful and motivating to you, and how that changes in different realms and different moments of your life.
As musicians, we know that we have to practice every day, and maybe we even have a set number of hours we are supposed to be putting in. I’ve had summers during which there are no real performances on my horizon, and I dive into the art of Practicing itself. These are the periods where I’ve really leaned into my warmup routines, where I’ve explored repertoire I might like to do in the future, where I PLAY WITH the oboe.
For me, though, in the absence of a date on the calendar that I’m aiming for, practice can get a little…pointless… and I can gradually fall out of the practice of practicing.
When I have a deadline, though, I make it happen. I know how to plan backward to make sure I’m doing run throughs before the performance, to make sure I have all of the notes learned, to have a cutsheet made. I know how to think through the energy arc of a performance, I know how to decide when I’m prepared enough, I know how to taper off in the couple of days before. I know how to organize a Project.
So, if I’m feeling a lack of motivation for the Practice of practicing, I create Projects for myself within that Practice.
For example, I could identify a particular skill I want to improve, devise a warmup exercise, and choose an etude or piece that features it. I could give myself deadlines to hit certain benchmarks. I could add accountability by promising to play it for a peer or colleague, or recording it for myself, or even setting up a low-stakes recital at a retirement center.
This game could work the other way, too. If the Project you are on – a recital, an audition, a concert – feels too big and too overwhelming, could you recast it as a Practice? I love the Practice of finding ease in my body, the Practice of maintaining mental presence and clarity, the Practice of playing only on my best reeds. Let the deadline take care of itself – because time WILL pass – and meanwhile you get to enjoy the comfort and steady improvement of a daily practice Practice.
How might you see this distinction helping you?
(H/T to the Long and the Short of It podcast for the inspiration.)