The importance of perseverance and vision

Hi folks

Today I will like to talk about a few important concepts that are very important when practicing music. These apply to not just music actually, but to any endeavour in life. They are perseverance and vision.

A few days ago I was practicing how to harmonise every tone in all major scales (one scale at a time) when I realised I was moving a little too fast. I would practice for a short while, become marginally better and jump to the next key.

Then I got to stop and question myself: is this the right way to practice? What will I really gain after going through all keys this way? Will I really have anything tangible to show for it? And my answer to this was a resounding no.

So I got back to the basics of what practice should be about, which I share here.

Before beginning practice it is necessary to have a clear vision of what you want to accomplish after practice. Sit and visualise it. E.g if you want to become fluent in playing a certain progression, imagine what it would be like to play that progression with the fluency you desire.

Next, keep practicing until you reach the goal you visualised. As long as your goal is a realistic one, you must persevere through practice as you gradually become more skilful in your craft and reach your goal. Do not get tempted to jump on to other things until your practice goal comes to fruition. It could take a week or even more to become fluent in certain routines, e.g. playing certain triads, scales, arpeggios, etc. 

Keeping these two principles in mind should make for more effective practice.

That’s all for now. Till next time.

Begin with the end in mind

Hi folks,

Today I’ll talk briefly about a few more things I learnt from reading Dr. Stephen Covy’s book: The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. It is Habit 2: Begin with the end in mind.

By this we mean that when you start a new endeavour or as you interact with others in life, it is important to have a firm vision of what outcome you will like to have achieved in that endeavour at the end of your life. E.g. If you are a parent raising kids, as you raise the kids, it is good to think of how you will like to be remembered by your kids after your death, that is, what you will like to have achieved in that endeavour. This lifetime vision should then steer the actions you make today, tomorrow, the day after, etc.

By beginning with the end in mind, we develop a broader perspective and become more able to identify what is really important, and what isn’t. Often times, people chase after material things in life, e.g. money, fame, etc. because they think these are nice to have, only to realise later that these may not be as important as once thought. Beginning with the end in mind solves this problem.

Some areas of life one can apply this concept to is relations with friends and family, career, etc.

Many people often live their lives based on things that are temporary, e.g. money, spouse, pleasure, etc. These “centres” determine their happiness, security and strength. The problem with these is that they can come and go and therefore cannot give lasting happiness. E.g. If one is spouse-centred and there is a relationship problem with the spouse, the person can become very unhappy and the unhappiness could impact other aspects of life in an unduly severe way. A good solution to this is to live a principle-centred life. That is, make your life centred on principles that will always hold through regardless of season. E.g. Being kind to others, being empathetic and fair. These are characters that are good to be known for, regardless life’s circumstances.

A good tool to help one begin with the end in mind is a Personal Mission Statement. A Personal Mission Statement can embody the values you hold most important to you, your roles in life, and what you will like to achieve in each of your roles to fulfil your values. By periodically reviewing your Personal Mission Statement and updating it as your circumstances change, you can maintain a balanced view of what is most important to you and act accordingly. Mission statements can be created for a family and for organisations as well to help ensure every party involved is aware of the core values of the group and foster greater harmony.

That’s all for now. There are much more fascinating details in the book on this habit. I encourage you to read it if you haven’t. Till next time.

On Being Proactive

Hi folks,

I read a book fairly recently called The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, by Dr. Stephen Covey and just wanted to share some insights I got from it.

One of the habits is: Be Proactive

By being proactive, it means we are responsible for our own lives.

We humans have a quality called self-awareness, that is, being aware of our own thought processes, being able to project our minds outside of ourselves and look at ourselves from the outside.

Often people blame their actions or situations on external factors by saying things like: that’s just the way I am, I just had to do it, it’s how it has been in my family, etc.

Being proactive means recognising that you have the power to decide how you act in any situation.

I found it quite enlightening how Dr. Covey breaks responsibility as response-ability, that is to say that we are able to select our response by using our self-awareness, imagination, conscience and independent will.

So, I take being proactive as not waiting for things to happen, but going out there and making things happen.

When one realises that he or she is totally able to select his/her responses it changes how we view things in life and how we interact with others. It empowers us to begin to learn to select the most effective responses to any situation we have in life.

So, examples of being proactive are as follows:

If a person wants a better job, he or she should take interest in the industry and even specific problems of organisations

If a person wants better health, go out there and exercise regularly.

Part of being proactive is focusing your energy on things you have control over, that is, things that are in your circle of influence, rather than things you may be concerned about but not have control over.

That’s it for now. Till next time, have a proactive time.

An approach to Problem Solving – Solving Simple Problems First

I have fond memories of the good old days solving numerous problems in examinations. Often times I ran into really facile problems whose solutions were comparable to eating meat pie. However, there were other instances where things just weren’t that simple. Yep, you got it. I’m talking about complex problems. In this article I discuss how I tackle problems of varying difficulty in limited time. This technique I will cover is actually quite simple and very powerful and it is as follows: solve simple problems first. I will discuss a few reasons why you should take this principle seriously.

First, by solving simple problems first, you increase your productivity and sense of accomplishment. Imagine trying to solve ten problems each carrying equal marks. Let’s assume the first two are deviously difficult for whatever reason (maybe lack of preparation) while the next five are very simple. Should you try to solve these first two completely before moving on to anything else, you may very well realize that by the time you are done with those questions time is up. And guess what? You only score a maximum of 20%. On the other hand, if you skim through the first two questions, find quickly that these are beasts and just move on to the third without solving the first two, then you will found to your delight five easy questions to solve and a maximum of 50% if that’s all you are able to solve.

Apart from the obvious reason that you stand a chance of getting better output by solving simple problems first, there’s an even more interesting and perhaps counter-intuitive reason one should leave the harder problems for later and it is as follows: Leaving a challenging problem for later actually increases the likelihood of you solving the problem. When faced with a really challenging problem, it has been shown scientifically that by taking one’s mind off that problem and doing some other things, one gives the brain time to subconsciously find a solution to the problem. This principle is called Incubation. Now there is no guarantee that this will work 100% but it definitely beats spending arbitrary amounts of time trying to solve the problem in one go without even a guarantee one will be arrive at the right solution.

Thus we see that when confronted with several problems to solve in time-constrained situations, it pays to tackle the easier ones first as this increases our potential output and also gives you a better chance of solving even the initially difficult problems. While I first learnt this principle while taking examinations in school, I have found it quite invaluable in everyday life.