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4 Things to do When You Don't Want to Practice

Because time on the instrument isn't the only way to support your creativity

We all have those days where we don’t want to take out our instrument, run those excerpts, work with that (d@#*) tuner.

Of course we do, we’re human! As much as we love spending time making music, sometimes the motivation is Just Not There.

And its a tricky balance, right? As musicians we need to be consistent, we need to bang out the work day in and day out, even when we don’t “feel” like it.

But, we also need to give ourselves tenderness and grace.

We live in a culture that values productivity and output. The measure of our worth is built upon how hard work, how much we accomplish. I can’t tell you how many 6 hour practice days I had in college just so I could say I practiced that much. Like by sheer force of will the hours in my instrument would make me worthy of something.

Of course it doesn’t work that way. Spoiler alert: You're worthy whether you practice 6 hours or no hours.

And at some point there are diminishing returns for the effort expended, both musically and emotionally.

If we aren’t in a positive emotional space when we start our work, we will be more likely to slip into negative, defeating self talk, physical tension and anxiety.

So might I suggest some alternatives? Some things that feed you, lift you up and equip you for when you are ready to practice?

I have been known to dismiss tools that support my mental health because they are so obvious, so unglamorous, so easy. Like a tool only works if I have to torture my way through it. (insert eye roll emoji.)

As it turns out, though, the simple tools are effective BECAUSE they are so easy. Because we can do them anywhere at anytime.

The only limit is whether you chose to utilize them or not.

So here we go.

4 Simple Things to do When You Don’t Want to or Can’t Practice

1. Breath Work: When we regularly practice intentional, calming breath our bodies learn to lock into relaxation quickly and efficiently. It is a physical cue to our nervous system, “Hey! It’s time to take it down a notch. You know how to do this. We’ve done this together a million times.”

A couple of my favorite breathing exercises to get you started:

  • Box Breathing: Breathe in for four counts, Hold for four counts, Breathe out for four counts, Hold for four counts.

  • Sigh Breathing: Breathe in through your nose, gently, slowly, relaxed and then exhale through your mouth quickly with an audible sigh - audible enough that you’d rather practice this alone than in the living room with your room mate. It is hugely freeing.

  • 4-7-8 Breath: With your tongue resting on the roof of your mouth, close one nostril. Breathe in for 4, hold for 7, breathe our for 8. Switch nostrils and repeat.

  • The Breathing App (or something similar): For those of us who turn to our phones when we’re uncomfortable or stressed, click the breathing app instead of social media. It will center you, calm you and bring you to a more peaceful mental place.

2. Journaling: Negative thoughts congest our brains and crowd out the beneficial, uplifting thoughts. It is imperative that we Get Them Out! Anxiety makes us believe that we can work through it by focusing on it. Like, if I just turn this worry around in my head, and look at it upside down, and peel the outside layer off I can solve it. I’m here to tell you that it LIES! Obsessive ruminating is not only unhelpful it is TOXIC. Do not allow yourself to be deceived by the lying liar, Anxiety.

Instead, purge those worries and fears onto the page. Write and write and write until you have emptied your brain of everything that weighs you down. Name the ugly stuff, the dark and embarrassing stuff, the immature stuff - who cares? You’re not publishing it. You’re not giving it to your bestie to read. And you can destroy it when you’re done! Light it on fire, tear it up, scribble all over it. Just GET IT OUT.

*note* Anxiety does sometimes have something helpful to say - if we are able to discern the helpful from the debilitating. Go through your list and if you can take actionable steps to resolve the issues, DO IT. You'll feel more in control and able to put away the worries that are not serving you.

3. Feed your Creative Spirit: So I have established a standing weekly date with myself (and whoever else wants to come!) to hunt for beauty. Every weekend I get out into nature, or to a museum, or a library (although we do have to be a bit more imaginative during COVID) and hunt for inspiration. We are producing ALL THE TIME. Making music hour upon hour every day. We must refill our tanks. The four walls of our practice rooms do not provide adequate inspiration (no matter how many quotes you have on your walls!)

Go see your world! Visit a farm. Get to know a local artisan. Take a class. Read poetry. Feed your eyes and your heart with delicious goodness.

This is not peripheral. This is ESSENTIAL.

4. Sleep: When I was in college that I felt guilty for sleeping more than 6 hours a night. Crazy town, I know. Sleep is when our brains process all the feelings, all the experiences of our days. They make sense of challenges, create insight, heal - all while you are blissfully unaware.

One of my friends is an avid napper. Unapologetic, shameless taker of sleep every day, during the day. Personally, I find her to be an inspiration. It is amazing what happens when we give our anxiety-ridden brains a break and just let them Do Their Thing. Often, that’s all we need!

Next Steps and Additional Resources

Here at The Musician's Mindset we have some incredible resources for developing and implementing mindset practices that will transform how you perform on stage.

  1. First, check out our Personalized Mindset Tools Quiz to discover the mindset strategies perfect for YOU!

  2. Join the waiting list for my FREE mini-course, How to Stimulate Your Vagus Nerve and Calm the Heck Down.

Katie Frisco

Founder of The Musician's Mindset

Katie is dedicated to helping musicians overcome stage fright and believe in their own unique artistic voice. She believes live classical music is a powerful antidote for the division, pain, and loneliness pervasive in the culture and strives to support all artists to confidently share their work with the world. She lives in Cincinnati with her husband, three kiddos, a dog, a snake, and a goldfish named Orca.


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