Need to Develop a Good Habit? Try stickers!

I used these for my private music students… and now, they motivate, reward and inspire me!

I use stickers, coloured dots and check lists to track my good habit creation. Just like I did with students when we were changing behaviours. Really. I respond to stickers, coloured dots and check lists. I make up games to get them! They are visual. I see them. Day after day. They motivate and reward me. (I’m pretty easy to satisfy. I guess I’m pretty self-directed.)

I DON’T want to see a missed day and eventually, the new habit becomes, well, a habit. I’m a pretty good self-checker.

In my head, at least, consistency is not my strong suit. But I KNOW that repetition is the mother of learning (thanks second year University Russian course—it’s a Russian proverb—and piano practice) and I also KNOW that I get more, better work done when I have my personal practice aligned.

Of course, that sounds all nicey nicey. Knowing and Doing are two different things. It’s hard to find out what works.

I have apparently stumbled upon the way that works for me. For now. I’m hoping this ‘game’ will let me play into a series of good, productive habits that will allow me to create and produce more… and better.

Right now I have several ‘behaviour projects’ underway. And tracking systems to go with them all!

  1. 40- day Mantras on Abundance and Removing Obstacles (thank you Lakshmi and Ganesha)— sticker in my planner
  2. 30-day post-a-day blogging challenge—pink dot on the tracking page
  3. Morning pages—sticker in the planner
  4. Meditation—ditto
  5. 10 000 steps a day walking goal—green dot on the tracking page
  6. stretch, do qi gong, yoga every day—planner
  7. 30 min/day reading of something intellectually challenging —planner

The morning practice is key.

I’ve had several versions of this for nearly 20 years. In the last years before I left teaching, my practice included biking 20 km to work, going into the gym and doing tai qi, leaving by 4:15 and not taking any work home. When I took the bus, I’d get off one stop early and do tai qi in the park, then walk to school. There are lots of ways to develop a habit. Now that I’m at home every morning and needing to accomplish other things, I have a different practice.

Here’s what I do now.

I get up early, make some hot water and fresh lemon juice and get my body awake. I prefer tai chi/qi gong to yoga on the whole. In the summer, I do a form of qi gong called Tao Yin Fa, outside on the grass. I learned it in the summer, and we were outside. I’m a certified practitioner/teacher. There’s a resonance there.

Last winter, I received a Rodney Yee yoga DVD—Yoga for the A.M. For me it’s more important to do something than to choose the right one. I make things simple. Follow the order. Don’t think, don’t fart around with it. Just get on with it. I’ve now resurrected a Tiger Shamanic Qi Gong DVD and put that in the mix. Doesn’t matter. As long as I do something for 15-20 minutes.

Morning Pages

Julia Cameron coined the phrase. Millions have joined the practice. Three pages, stream of consciousness writing. Sometimes it’s profound. Sometimes it’s a to-do list. Sometimes there are diagrams, a shopping list, a wish list, a what not to do list. Sometimes it’s just scribbles. Literally. Or, when it feels like there aren’t words, I write things like “keep writing” or “blah blah blah” or “pen paper scissors porch marble nightstars chocolate blah.” And then I’m off.

It clears my mind like qi gong clears out the chi-webs that form in the night.

Mantra Meditation

I’m on the third 40- day practice. That’s 40 days in a row. Every day. Without a miss. If I miss, I have to start again. Sometimes I’ve had to do it just before bed. But I do it. And that’s the point.

If I can build these small routines into a consistent positive habit, then I figure I can add larger ones. One step at a time.

I also use an emWave with that. This is a biofeedback device developed by the great folks at the  Institute of HeartMath, who researches stress, emotions, heart intelligence, coherence and more. I play a game. I only repeat the mantram when my heart is in partial or total coherence. This means it takes longer than if I simply repeated the mantra.

Meditation

This active form of meditation focuses my mind on a seedthought and orients me towards that for the day. It’s a method of soul contact and integration and includes the Great Invocation and, often, the Gayatri.

THE GREAT INVOCATION *

From the point of Light within the Mind of God
Let light stream forth into human minds.
Let Light descend on Earth.

From the point of Love within the Heart of God
Let love stream forth into human hearts.
May the Coming One return to Earth.

From the centre where the Will of God is known
Let purpose guide all little human wills –
The purpose which the Masters know and serve.

From the centre which we call the human race
Let the Plan of Love and Light work out
And may it seal the door where evil dwells.

Let Light and Love and Power restore the Plan on Earth.

* adapted version
__________________________________________

This is a slightly adapted wording of the Great Invocation which was given out in 1945. In accordance with the changing consciousness and language of humanity as we enter into the Aquarian age, this “adapted” wording for the Great Invocation is offered in the hope that it will encourage wider distribution of this world prayer.

Many religions believe in a World Teacher, knowing him under such names as the Lord Maitreya, the Imam Mahdi, the Bodhisattva, and the Messiah, and these terms are used in some of the Christian, Hindu, Muslim, Buddhist and Jewish versions of the Great Invocation.

Men and women of goodwill throughout the world are using this Invocation in their own language. Will you join them in using the Invocation every day – with thought and dedication? By using the Invocation and encouraging others to use it, no particular group or organisation is sponsored. It belongs to all humanity.

Reading for 30 minutes

I used to read while I was eating breakfast. I didn’t time it, but now that I read for 30 minutes (and time it) I realize I wasn’t reading so much then! And it’s the light stuff… Treatise on White Magic, Esoteric Astrology, and starting tomorrow or Monday, I’m heading into  a new pattern: I’m rotating through The Secret Doctrine… and four others, as yet unchosen.

I’m going to shake things up, though, and work at 3-5 books, 30 minutes a day, a different book for each day of the week, for the energy of the day, or just set them out and pick one up every day. We’ll see. As my father-in-law used to say, usually just before he played a nasty prank on someone, “Ya gotta have fun sometime.” Again.. more important for me to do something than to do the ‘right thing.’

30-Day postaday Blog Challenge

I’ve been sitting on the fence about blogging for several years. Rather, I’ve had blogs, but have had no strategy nor plan. Failing to plan=planning to fail. (quote attributed to Winston Churchill, Benjamin Franklin and Alan Lakein. I’m going with Win and Ben) It’s been hit and miss to say the least. Mostly, I haven’t shown up. If you don’t show up, you don’t get results. Go figure.

So I decided to push myself to post something every day. Just for the practice. Without pushing for followers, without pushing for comments, without expecting anything. The project is to post something every day and learn. I started on the New Moon of Libra. So far So good.

10 000 Steps a Day

I’m not achieving this and didn’t fully expect to. Plus I was sick for a couple of days and my blood pressure was really low for a day. So, this week, I’m giving myself a break. The realistic target is 5 000 a day and 10 000 several days. When it’s not pouring rain and I’m not in the car, it’s easier. But it isn’t difficult at all if you do a few 20 min walks.

And so it goes. Brendan Burchard, in The Charge, talks about 30, 60, 90-day learning projects. Rather than start at the beginning of the month, I’m working with the first of the month, the new moon, the change of zodiacal sign and the full moon. This gives me a chance to get something underway before a new pattern begins.

We’re in Scorpio, so I’ve set a challenge (which I’m keeping to myself for now) and the Full Moon is coming up, so I’ve set a mental pattern to change over the next 6 months)

And I’m going to use stickers, coloured dots… and maybe even some gold stars. They’re more interesting than simple check marks, no?!

Looking for other ways to inculcate a good habit….

An Unexpected Joy!

Two hours at a new local music store, Alley Kat Music. Just opened up and Josh, the young owner, has invited all the teachers he’s got to teach there to meet the public. I’ll consider teaching there (life is changing) and promised to show up. As one of his advisors and supporters, I need to do that for him.With the intent to give whoever is there MORE than they expect, I’ve created a Practice Tips sheet for whoever signs into his system. Plus, I’ve collected a couple of Making Music magazines and some National Music Camp brochures.

I’m expecting nice chats with a couple of the teachers. I’m expecting to meet a few people I know and a few I don’t. I’m expecting to get a little snack, ’cause I haven’t had dinner.

I was NOT expecting….

  • to meet a very delightful Bert Pepper, a fiddler from Wingham who, with his wife, moved to Rodney a few years ago
  • to see several high school students, including a young flautist who was at camp
  • to play as much as I did!

So, being the good Music for People grad that I am, I saw an opportunity. You see, Tanner, the flautist, had taken a fiddling option at camp. Bert, the fiddler… well, he fiddles. Tanner had brought his flute. I brought the two of them into the lesson room, the one that is finished, the one with the piano.

Tanner was trying to remember the tune he’d learned. Bert and I played along.

And then… oh,the magic, the magic…

Bert, how about you play a short riff and then Tanner, do an answer. You don’t have to copy the same notes, but just play something in response.

Shall we play in “Dog?”

And off we went. Back and forth. Bert and Tanner traded fiddling 4’s. Two of his friends listened in, iPhones recording it all. They navigated the changes, echoed, repeated and added… and we all found the perfect place to end! Woohooooo!!!!

Sufficiently emboldened…

OK, let’s try this, I said, start out with some call and response, and then, at some point, let’s change form 6/8 to 2 and kick it up.

Once again… in Dog!

We Did it!!! The shift was seamless. I let out a hoot! LOVE. IT. The kids were impressed.

It’s all music, said Bert.

Suddenly, I wasn’t sooo sad that I wasn’t at the weekend in Stony Point with some of my best musical, improv, American friends.

But that wasn’t all. Yeah, yeah, I had some snacks, met the other teachers and saw some friends I knew.

But then….

Bert and a local guitarist/singer, Bill, got together and started jamming on some fiddle tunes. I

That would have been enough to ‘make my night’ and I thought of all my MfP friends making music this weekend. We’d be recording and getting caught up and making music and laughing…

I got to play BASS! Haven’t played electric bass for….decades? We played in Dog, we played in Girl. Josh brought out another violin for a visitor and we played Amazing Grace. And then….(OMG, MfP comes to life!) I picked up the fiddle and … off we went again. Of course, I couldn’t play all the tunes, but I could improvise and make it sound like a tune! Traded the fiddle in for Bill’s guitar… and off we went again. (note to self… start playing fiddle!)

But it continues..in a different vein.

  • I taught a 10-year old girl, who is thinking about voice and piano, how to play on the black notes, with both hands and all fingers—and I played with her. Then I taught her how to play Hot Cross Buns in ‘Cat’… she sang as she played and I added the bass lines for her. All in about 8 minutes.

There you go! Your first lesson!

And it was free! she said.

  • I showed a woman that she is not tone-deaf;

You just proved that you have the capacity to sing in tune! All you need is lots of experience. You are NOT tone-deaf. You can sing.

That must made my night, she said.

In two hours… all of this.

WOW… lucky am I!!!

Week Three- and I’m still at it

Piano

Piano (Photo credit: esc861)

 

Things don’t typically go as planned— my three-time a week at 9 AM practising plan among them.

 

However, I’ve stuck to the hour a day commitment for three weeks now, relaxing a bit about my schedule, just making sure it gets done —in the morning. Showing up is the main thing. Once I walk up the stairs, the next hour of playing is given.

 

Every day has started with drums. Drum sticks on a practice pad. This helps calm my brain, empty it of wandering thoughts and clearing it for focus. It also helps my drumming! Whatever I’ve been pondering up to that point in the morning goes into park, on to the back burner, off to the side, percolating, while I focus on right left right left, in some combination. I remember to breathe, to relax, to have fun doing it.

 

The piano requires a different approach. It’s an instrument I know, one upon which I’ve practised for years, and so know how the practising is ‘supposed’ to go. As I go through scales and arpeggios, broken chords and Hanon, I’m also breaking some old patterns. I don’t have to spend the whole time on one scale. Today, I did 4 or 5 scales, 4 octaves, 2 octave splits, in thirds and tenths, then plowed through arpeggios using the cycle of fifths.

 

This is not revolutionary stuff. However, releasing the old requirement to stick to one scale day after day, has been important. The flow is better now and I’m listening for fluffy notes—those times when my fingers aren’t quite precise enough to hit the key squarely.

 

One note at a time—full and complete and precise and heard.

 

I’ve opened up the Grade 9 book. Didn’t spend much time on it when I was 13, so there are lots of pieces I haven’t played at all. It’s and easy sell. The pieces are easy enough that I can learn them in a few days and interesting enough to provide a challenge—speed, expression, mood, colour.

 

Bach‘s Prelude in C- is my current best friend. It’s such a training and requires a precision I’m looking for in pieces right now. It trains me, leads me, teaches me. I listen. I’m beating my old practice patterns out of myself and Bach insists better than most. For once, I’m really learning a piece, bar by bar, listening, looking, watching my fingers, paying attention to the line, the interweavings. It’s going deeper. I’m going deeper, insisting on precision and right notes and right fingerings— not just letting everything slide under.

 

I have to breathe more, practising this way. I have to relax my shoulders, sit squarely on the bench, start again, go slower and enjoy it. The going slower. How many times did I hear “Slow Down!” when I was a kid. I say the same things now with my students. It really does work.

 

I have no expectations or aspirations — yet. Right now it is enough that I play, and practise and repeat and slow down. It is enough that I do this for three hours a week— and find myself able to do it without difficulty. It is enough that I play up and down the keyboard, using all the things I know. I DO want to get better. Not just on the piano.

 

My hour ran out today without improvising and without playing unusual scales or learning something jazz. I have to watch that I don’t make practising the classical stuff an excuse for not improvising and chopping away at something new.

 

The Hour Went By Quickly

I began today on a djembe. Even hands. Left, right, left, right, one, one, one, one. Both hands even. Breathe. Listen. Relax. Listen again. Go deeper. E-ven, e-ven, e-ven, e-ven. One, one, one, one.

It’s all One. Rhythms in 2, 3, 4, 7, 9, 12… they’re all collections of one. With different emphases. Rhythms in 4, 5, 6, 7, 11… just altered combinations of 2 and 3. Played around with different emPhases on DifFerent plaCes! Got some sticks out and a practice pad and went at Even Hands again. Not so even! Ha! It’ll get there.

When I was a kid, I hated Hanon. Wasn’t crazy about practising in general, but the scales and exercises drove me nuts. I hated the limits. I wanted to play the pieces– a different kind of limit. Today I started again with Hanon and went through all major keys. Slowly, evenly— another childhood challenge. Today the limits were comforting and relaxing. They let my fingers find their place, allowed me to breathe, allowed my brain to process and re-integrate, re-learn the power of limits.

I’m working on Moment Musical (Opus 94. No. 4), by Schubert. I chose it because the right hand pattern is one upon which I can improvise easily. Rather than sight-reading it and learning it by my quick learn method, I’m going at it in sections, singing as I play, getting the singing pitches right, feeling the spaces between my fingers, the places where my fingers need to stretch, or change order. Feeling the place where my  fingers need to think and listen and feel. I haven’t even looked at the third and fourth pages yet.

But I’ve played the sections, noticed the differences, played right hand alone, right and left hands playing the right hand… it’s been fun! Huh.

I want to work on melody creation. Creating a good melody, a theme that I can remember—at least for the duration of an improv—one I can come back to. That’s how I ended the hour today… finding a melody I like and playing around with it.

Kinda like life.

I already feel happier.

 

Finding the Mus(e)ic Again

The challenge for any artist is, primarily, to show up to one’s art. There are all kinds of ways not to show up. Doing the dishes, hanging out on email or facebook, working, watching TV, taking care of the family… the To Do list goes on, as does life. Then you wake up at the end of your life and realize- you didn’t become the artist you wanted to be. And it would have been so easy.

One of my ways has been to find interesting jobs that take time and a number of talents. Work that pays the bills and allows the creativity to move. Managing a farmers’ market, writing and strategizing for a cultural non-profit, teaching music lessons, starting a youth band, founding a women’s choir.

Ten years ago I graduated from the Musicianship & Leadership Program with Music for People. It was four years of growing, personally and musically. Four years of driving 2 000 km, four times a year to workshops. Four years of Homeplay, teaching, facilitating, thinking and busting through, over, under and around obstacles. And thanking them for the opportunity.

In my head, I knew I could make a life and a living with this. But I haven’t. Detours, Distractions, Dilly Dallying… it’s all added up to a very interesting, imaginative, musical, artful, creative life, but My Music -I’ve ignored it. Completely. Serendipity would have it that I created some work for this month and next— two days of work in a school. This past weekend, I spent a weekend coming out of the Shadow Artist role I’ve played, knowing I’d been missing making music. I made the trip to my first Music for People weekend since 2000.

I celebrated my 10th anniversary of graduation with 3 others who graduated at the same time, on the weekend of 10-10-10. Four new grads joined us, making it 100 MfP grads to date. The numerological significance of this did not slip by me.

At home, I wandered around our bush, on a sunny Thanksgiving Monday, camera in hand. I sang into the woods, I kept silence as my friend, I listened to the leaves rustling— and tried to imitate the sound, I made some photos, thought about “Art” and, let my mind travel.

As one job has ended, time has been released. With harvest in full swing, the house will be empty much of the time. I’ve reduced the number of teaching hours. We’re heading into the quiet season, the deepening time, the period of going inside.

Today I began the recovery process. Along with my meditative and study  practice, I’m committing to spending 1 hour each Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday morning… making music. No phones, no computer, no dishes, mail, cleaning, making lists… just music.

And I will see where music takes me over the next two months.