Key Life Lessons
Life is full of challenges... some we complete with ease while others test us in all sorts of ways.
As a successful businessman, artist, inventor, musician and teacher, I'm passionate about helping others discover and realize their true potential so they can be the best version of themselves, get more out of life, and enjoy all the amazing things life can teach us.
So in this article, I'm going to share with you
- the best way to rise to a challenge
- why you should never label a situation or person as good or bad
- how to banish stress and enjoy the journey when facing challenges and
- how you can apply this wisdom to a specific challenge.
I recently received an email from a parent of a particularly bright piano student saying that she was currently “frustrated to the point or tears” with a particular piano piece from the Musiah syllabus.
Each level in the Musiah course of online piano lessons contains one or two major challenges, and the particular piece this student was learning at the time is the main challenge for that level.
Given life is so full of challenges, the question of how to effectively rise to a challenge is an incredibly important one not only for all piano students but every human being around the world.
Is it possible to approach challenges in a way that boosts enjoyment and gives you the best chance of success while minimizing potential frustration, stress and disappointment?
Most certainly... continue reading to find out how.
Why you should never label a situation or person as good or bad
There is an old Buddhist story about a farmer whose horse ran away, about which all the neighbors said, “What bad luck!” to which the farmer replied, “Maybe”.
Next day the horse came back with several other wild horses. “What great luck!” the neighbors exclaimed. “Maybe” said the farmer.
A few days later the farmer’s son fell off one of the horses and broke his leg. As expected, all the neighbors said, “What bad luck!” to which the farmer replied, “Maybe”.
A week later the army came through the village to draft all the young men, but seeing the broken leg of the farmer’s son they left him in peace. “What great luck”, the neighbors said. “Maybe,” the farmer responded. And so on.
The point here is to try not to automatically label everything as good or bad.
Most of us, when faced with a challenge think negatively about both the challenge and how we see ourselves in relation to the challenge, which leads to lack of confidence and low self-esteem. So this approach is dysfunctional and disempowering.
About the challenge we think: “What a pain! Why can’t it be easier? It’s so hard…I hate this.”
About ourselves: “I can’t do this… I’m not good enough… I’m a failure... I’m not musical enough, fit enough, beautiful enough” – or whatever is applicable to this challenge.
But here’s the thing: A decent challenge truly is your friend in a way that a lesser challenge can never be.
If you go out for a walk or a run, do you hate that challenging steep hill that makes you puff, pant and sweat?
Though very common, this thinking is not only incorrect – it's incredibly limiting. The hill has done nothing wrong. If anything, the hill is your friend. Like a personal trainer or mentor, it is making you better, stronger, fitter. It will do more for you than several kilometers of flat road. We ought to embrace the hill, thank the hill, and welcome the hill into our lives each time we approach it.
And this also changes how we think and feel about ourselves as we approach the hill. We are grateful for the challenge, more respectful and less dismissive of it, and more mindful of the ways in which we need to adapt in order to master the challenge and receive the benefits it has to offer.
As we alter our breathing, our pace, our psychology and the muscles we call into action as we face the hill, we are evolving and improving into a better, more beautiful version of ourselves not just physically but at a higher level.
How to banish stress and enjoy the journey
In his excellent book, “The Power Of Now, A Guide To Spiritual Enlightenment”, author Eckhart Tolle describes stress as “being here but wanting to be there”.
Frustration is a form of stress that we sometimes experience when facing a challenge (like the above-mentioned piano student) because we are currently on this side of the challenge, but wanting to be on the other side of it.
Just because something is at first difficult, does that necessarily mean it is bad? As our Buddhist farmer would say, “maybe”.
Is it also possible that the current challenge (such as learning a difficult piano song) is doing us a great service by forcing us to adapt, to acquire new skills and new ways of thinking in order to grow and evolve into a musician that can master the challenge?
Of course it is – but it is also vitally important to enjoy the journey.
Imagine an artist who paints oil paintings all day long, only ever thinking of finishing the painting he is currently on. What a miserable existence.
I myself have worked as an artist, and one of the things painting taught me was to enjoy the journey. The thing to realize is that it’s OK that your current challenge is a work in progress. It’s OK that you are growing and evolving, that you are not yet perfect. Most of your life will be like this, because as soon as you complete one project or challenge, you move on to the next.
The most exciting thing about any endeavor – if you make a point of observing it in yourself – is to note your own continual ongoing growth and evolution.
When you discover that the journey truly is the best part of any challenge, the completion of each challenge (the destination) will take care of itself.
So by focusing on and fully embracing your current step on your journey, stress will naturally dissolve away because you are no longer focussing excessively on the destination (i.e. being here but wanting to be there).
How you can apply this wisdom to a specific challenge
So now you've got your head in the right space (hopefully), what practical things can you do to help you not only master a challenge such as learning a difficult piano song but also enjoy the journey as you do it?
Note: While these next few paragraphs apply mainly to Musiah piano students, the principals described can be used by anyone facing any challenge.
Many years ago, my third piano teacher, Professor Anthony Glavin at the Royal Irish Academy of Music (may he RIP) wisely taught me that "the slower you practice, the quicker you learn".
So, whenever you encounter a piano piece that you find challenging, I suggest going into the Practice Area within the Musiah application, select the relevant piece and, initially without any click track or backing track, play through it as SLOWLY as you can bear to go. (Try the 'Practice Untimed' feature to help with this).
It's not just about learning the notes but about learning the shape of the hand positions and finger combinations required to play the notes. Imagine you have to play the piece blind-folded. Really think about, and be aware of the shapes of the pairs of notes in each hand. Visualize and feel the physical movements required to play the song.
When you can play it comfortably at a very slow, almost meditative tempo, then try it with a slow click track. When you can manage it comfortably with a slow click track, increase the tempo to medium (can be either click track or backing track). Only when you can do it comfortably on medium should you then increase the speed to full tempo.
At the risk of stating the obvious, no one can play something at full tempo if they are unsure of exactly what it is they are meant to be playing. And the only way to become sure, is through slow practice combined with the right psychology.
Don’t be quick to judge the challenge as being either good or bad, but allow for the possibility that, like a good friend, this challenge is exactly what you need at this point in time to help you adapt, learn new techniques and ways of thinking, and ultimately grow and evolve into an improved version of yourself.
Another technique that helps is to set yourself small goals. For example, don’t try to “learn” the whole piano piece in one go. Instead take just one or two bars and play through the left hand slowly as many times as you need to in order to become comfortable playing it. Then play through the right hand slowly as many times as you need to. And finally, going as SLOW as you can bear to go, play both hands, just in that segment, as many times as you need to for that section of the piece to be absorbed into your subconscious. Once that segment or goal has been completely mastered, move onto the next segment and repeat the process.
And one final tip: When you’re trying to put the whole piano piece together, don’t always start at the beginning. Many students start at the beginning all the time, and so they tend to be great at playing the start of the piece but weaker at playing the end of it. A helpful approach is to sometimes practice the last line of the piece, then try the last two lines, then the last three lines and so on, working your way backwards towards the start.
Conclusion: The best way to rise to a challenge
Quite often challenges will not take as much time or effort to master as you might at first think – particularly if you adopt the above philosophies and suggestions which in summary are:
- Approach the challenge with a positive mindset
- Don't label the challenge (or yourself) as good or bad
- Love and accept yourself exactly as you are right now at this point on your journey
- Embrace the journey and what it has to teach you and
- Comfortably and confidently know that the destination – your successful completion of the challenge – will take care of itself.
I hope you found these life lessons helpful and that they will make a real difference in your life.
Thanks for reading and please feel free to comment below.
Brendan Hogan L.Mus.A, A.Mus.A.
Piano Teacher & Musiah Inventor
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