Unnecessary suffering comes from wanting things to be different than they actually are

This week, I am recording five songs for soprano and piano that were written by a graduate student. I agreed to the gig because it filled a gap in my schedule, I liked the poet and poetry, and I’d be working with a friend to record. However, I quickly began to regret my decision. As I dug into the music, I realized the pieces are ridiculously difficult- polyrhythms, mixed meter, octave-plus jumps, no down-beats, the piano and voice rarely line up, uncomfortable vowels for runs (example: run on “-ful” of “beautiful”), etc.

The music was hard enough, and my thoughts were complicating the learning process. While working on the music, I would observe myself thinking: I can’t learn this, I really wish I didn’t agree to this gig, this is too hard, I am not a good enough musician, I can’t count this, doesn’t the composer know singers can’t count, and I’d also catch myself drafting mental messages to the composer explaining why the music was hard/impossible to sing. Needless to say, while working my frustration level was high.

My rational mind knows that people are capable of improving with deliberate practice. I believe in a growth mindset over a fixed mindset, but old habits die hard, and the ingrained thoughts from growing up are that of a fixed mindset. Those self-defeating, negative thoughts are NOISE and they create unnecessary emotional resistance. Having the thoughts isn't a problem, but mindlessly believing in them is. So I need to follow up those self-limiting beliefs with what I actively choose to believe.

As the Buddha taught, unnecessary suffering comes from wanting things to be different than they actually are. The reality is I am going to learn and record the music. Bitching all the way is not going to make it any better, instead it will make the process miserable. So the earlier I can catch myself thinking I can’t do this, and respond with, I believe in a growth mindset, which means everyone is capable of improving with deliberate practice; let me break this down into a smaller piece and slowly repeat the section that’s troubling me, the faster I will learn the music (and the process will be more enjoyable).

I wrote a post-it note to myself as a reminder and stuck it in the binder where I could see it while practicing: “You can do it! Smaller chunks + repetition. Growth vs Fixed.”

I have lots of notes on the mirror above my keyboard to serve as reminders while I’m practicing. Here are a couple pictures and copies of the text (please ignore my Monday morning bedhead):

“The only movement during inhalation is re-adjusting to speech shape and balancing the structure. Breathe different = Sing different.”

“Aspiration for manifesting highest potential. Trust that the possibility is there. Energy to engage to support manifesting.”

“Speech shape. Structure. No resistance. No pressure. Air velocity (spend). Tongue on teeth. Vowel. Face.” “You don’t need any more technical knowledge. Just discipline.”

“DICTATE then judge.”

“Slow down. Do it again.”

“Careful is wrong. Dictate with confidence.”

What phrases do you use to combat self-defeating or fixed mindset thoughts? Consider writing them down and placing them where you most need to be reminded and eventually, with enough repetition, they may become your first thought.

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“And now go, and make interesting mistakes,
amazing mistakes,

make glorious and fantastic mistakes.
Break rules. Leave the world more interesting for your being here.
Make good art.”

                                                     -Neil Gaiman