Working Happy, Inspired by Benjamin Franklin

ben franklinI’ve been thinking a lot about my purpose in performing at Carnegie Hall in February 2014.  As I wrote yesterday, it seems realistic to assume that not much in my external world will change. But it will be an important experience for ME. And basically I like to perform, once I  slice through the layers of fear, procrastination, pessimism and doubt.

In the past I’ve had some transcendant experiences on stage, but only when I have been very well prepared.  When I have not been prepared,  I have had some very bad experiences – panic attacks,  dissassociation, and wrenching memory slips.  What helps me enjoy performing is being very well prepared. On the other hand,  I’ve also worked incredibly hard for months, postponing and denying myself all kinds of comforts in order to give a good performance,  and then felt cheated – like all the sacrifices weren’t worth the payoff.  The performance seemed so short compared to the months of deprivation. So in the past 8 weeks or so, I have been sculpting a new routine that I will enjoy but will also help me be completely prepared to play beautifully and with confidence in February.

Stamping Out Procrastination

The first issue I attacked was procastination. One of the hardest things for me over the years has been to get to the piano.  Once I am there,  I enjoy my time,  but when I am away from the keyboard, it always seems that something else is more important.  So I devised a weekly schedule where I practice FIRST before I do anything else.  Since I start teaching several days at 9:30 a.m.,  that means I have to be at the piano by 8 to get in 90 minutes before my first student.  Which means I have to get up at 6:30 or 7.

I have created a weekly time tracking sheet for myself on a word processor.  It has lines for each half hour of the day from 7 a.m. to 10 p.m.  I have preentered my practice time and teaching commitments.  All tasks have to be written ON THE SCHEDULE, not on some gigantic overwhelming list that is not connected to the reality of the hours of time I have available to me.  As the day goes by I write down what I ACTUALLY do.  In The Happiness Project, Gretchen Rubin writes about how Ben Franklin kept a daily chart of his goals, and how she found that reviewing her  daily ‘directives’ helped her keep them in mind. I found the same thing with my new/old fashioned system. It’s really helped me where the rubber meets the road – the minute to minute choices that I make as the day goes by.  I find myself less likely to spend a few minutes here or there on things that are not important to me – playing word games online, shopping on Ebay – since I refer to a print copy of my larger time plan many times per day.

I am SOO not a morning person,  but I have been able to make the shift to this schedule over a few weeks.  Inspired by Gretchen’s lucid writing on the subject,  when I begin to feel tired in the evening,  I start my getting ready for bed routine. This means I am often in my pajamas at 7 p.m., which is an effective deterrent to running out to the store for a few items!

There have been some unexpected benefits to this new paradigm.  Once I finish my practicing for the day I feel a great sense of freedom, as if I have accomplished all that is really important for the day.  So everything else feels easy and almost like play – cleaning the kitchen, writing a few emails, doing my studio billing – it all seems simple in comparison to the mental effort at the instrument.Another is that over the 8 – 10 weeks I have kept this schedule,  I have memorized all of the Rachmaninoff Kriesler Liebesleid  and Valse Brilliante by Manna Zucca. (In another post I’ll write about how I chose this program.)

Tomorrow:  Improving Memorization

In the past I have seen myself as a poor  memorizer.  Now I am feeling a glow of accomplishment that I have tackled this fear and pinned it to the ground.  Tomorrow I will write about the approach I have been using to memorize .