Help me bust out of a recursive thought / reaction loop
January 29, 2021 5:41 AM   Subscribe

I really would like to make growth mindset theory work for me in the realm of music practice. Problem: over 50, breathed fixed mindset like air for decades, and highly allergic to the tiniest failures.

If you're familiar with growth mindset theory, you'll also know about fixed mindset, which is characterized by the pervasive idea that you're kind of stuck with what you've got in terms of talent, intelligence... and in my own case, one's own tendency to be "allergic" to anything other than a complete success, especially when making music is concerned. I can't seem to break out of those intensely emotional reactions to the sounds I make that aren't great.

I would like to get to a point, as described in Dweck's book, where I take a "10,000 failures is OK" stance on my music practice. Like it's just a big lab. And of course I want to be a better singer, which may or may not result from a "lab" attitude.

In theory, applying growth mindset principles sounds like a great idea. But I need some real-life encouragement. I'd like to hear a few more growth mindset success stories especially if you started with it later in life and / or if you applied it to a total mind-body activity like music or sports.

I define "success" here as: "I let go of attachment to outcome on my practice and I learned to enjoy the experience itself" or perhaps "I got better at what I was practicing and enjoyed the whole experience more."

MeFites tend to be skeptical in healthy ways around "you can do anything you want" type of thinking, which to me is a potential neoliberal tar pit. So here I am.

I don't want to hear about cognitive therapy, which is (rightfully, to my eye) critiqued in Carol Dweck's original book on growth mindset for not going far enough in focused ways to keep you moving on a goal. And I already have a mindful self-compassion practice with daily meditation going, but it's not helping in this area.
posted by Sheydem-tants to Sports, Hobbies, & Recreation (30 answers total) 28 users marked this as a favorite
I never used a sewing machine before age 32. Two years later, I am still not great at sewing and most of the clothes I've made for myself are kind of bad. But I have come to enjoy the practice of making them and take pride in wearing them anyway. The best part is, because I have record of my oldest attempts (in my closet!) I can see how far I've come, even when I'm feeling disappointed that my buttonholes on my latest project are wonky or whatever.

I have had a similar experience with other crafts I've picked up as an adult. My attempts at first are awful. I do, with the application of time and effort, get to a place that's good. But there's always someplace better to go, no matter how good I get.

Music is hard because you don't have a strong sense of what you used to sound like. Perhaps consider taping yourself, not listening to the tape right away, then coming back to it in a few months so you can really hear the growth.
posted by branca at 5:54 AM on January 29, 2021 [2 favorites]

Best answer: So, I've just started taking voice lessons for the first time at 42 and I've only had four or five lessons so far but it has been kind of revelatory?

A few things that have helped me specifically:
- Letting go of ideas about how things "should" work, especially around learning new music. I realized that I vaguely believe that I should just be able to pick up a piece of German lieder and sing it beautifully. And this is not true for me, not now, and who knows if it ever will be! That's too much for me to think about all at once! My teacher has me breaking the singing/song-learning process into first learning the words, then learning the rhythm, then the rest. (This actually was my process when I've needed to learn a piece quickly in the past, but I always kind of felt like it was a quick-and-dirty way of doing it and that it was cheating somehow. Cheating what? What rules was I breaking?)
- Spending more time with my voice, challenging my voice, listening to my voice. My frustration is usually around tone, and I have a bad habit of pulling back so that I don't risk making an "ugly" sound - which also makes it hard for me to make a really beautiful sound. And I'm only going to learn to make those beautiful, good-feeling sounds by practicing them, and practicing the good sounds means sometimes I'm going to make a crazy weird noise that I don't like.
- I've just started doing this, but I've been practicing "long tones" - essentially just sustaining a note in my range on a specific vowel (I cycle through Ah-eh-ee-oh-oo) for as long as I comfortably can, with a focus on mindfully listening and noticing and feeling, not on fixing or optimizing anything.

I've been a serious choral singer, occasional soloist at the weddings of friends/family, stuff like that for most of my life, but just a few tweaks to my mindset and technique have made a huge difference. I'm paying more attention to what singing feels like and I'm enjoying singing more, I feel better about my singing, and I think I'm singing better.

Also happy to recommend my teacher/studio - PM me if you're interested. Not the cheapest but they do Zoom lessons.
posted by mskyle at 6:04 AM on January 29, 2021 [5 favorites]

Best answer: I taught myself to draw when I was in my mid-twenties and it's now my career. I feel/felt like most adults who draw were good at it as kids and got encouraged to continue; this was not me. Drawing just felt like something I needed to be able to do to see the world and communicate the way I wanted to, so I spent like a year just drawing for a few hours most days. Maybe one or two of those drawings were "successful" in terms of being show-able to someone, or having some meaning to me. Eventually I did get "good", just from commitment to practice.

Nowadays a lot of people would probably be impressed by my skill- I draw better than most adults can imagine themselves doing. My mindset is that if I can do it, anyone can- you do just have to be willing to put the time in.

Relatedly/tangentially, the "better" I got at drawing the more I started thinking about what drawing actually is, thinking orthogonally to the very idea of "being good at drawing", which led me to actually more interesting mindsets about creativity, art and images, and to disinvest from "being good at drawing" as really a real thing or goal.

Like: I once upon a time couldn't draw. Now I can. At times I feel deep joy from it, sometimes boredom, sometimes frustration and feeling "bad", but these all experiences are good in themselves, and wouldn't be open to me if I hadn't sat on my ass making bad drawings for a long time.

It's like you have to reach a certain level of skill to be able to think beyond that "skill" in whatever undertaking you are doing (art, music, whatever) and learn to "unlearn the rules" or uncover more advanced and interesting approaches to that undertaking. Maybe looking at some avant garde or outsider music which is not predicated on classical notions of musicality might be fun in developing this kind of of orthogonal thinking, while you also practice enough to get up to the level where you can begin to play and explore.
Perhaps this is actually the key to "growth mindset": I'm working on this thing to be able to express myself/communicate ideas in an effective and meaningful way, and that goal is so intrinsically vital that a) it actually transcends the need to be skilful (e.g. I can think of loads of amazing singers "who can't sing") and b) paradoxically motivates you to practice and be engaged with your artistic expression, in your case music.
posted by Balthamos at 6:28 AM on January 29, 2021 [9 favorites]

I've realized that I have been taking a "fixed" mindset to work, which was causing me a lot of anxiety in doing things that I perceived myself at being "bad" at (e.g., making pretty slides, communicating succinctly to senior folks). I don't think I'm great at either of these, but I would say my anxiety about them has reduced by ~80%. Some of the things that have helped me let go and embrace more of a "growth" mindset is:

- 1) Remembering that an inherent aspect of learning is that something "feels" hard, or that it requires some trial/error. That not doing something perfectly the first time or with a subjective experience of ease does not mean I won't one day reach this mastery, but rather that I am feeling exactly what I am supposed to feel if I want to learn. I've been trying to call this "practicing," and recognizing I have a safe space to not stick a perfect landing. My mindset was definitely more "performance" oriented previously.
- 2) I think about learning to walk. Babies, at some point, will learn to walk (if they are able). It takes a lot of tries/attempts over a long period of time. But, they don't "give up" on learning to walk, and decide that crawling is their preferred mode of transportation for the rest of their lives.
- 3) I think about my past attempts at learning and their outcomes in order to remember that learning is a process that takes time. It took me (like many others) multiple months to learn how to drive, and many years to get more facility at driving. And, if I don't make a habit of driving often, driving again can feel kind of tough.
- 4) I've been working on identifying "why" I felt hyper critical of myself on certain things. Over time, I've noticed that I feel a particularly "fixed mindset" on areas where I perceived others naturally had it easier. Like, oh wow, all my peers are amazing at making awesome slides and they do it so fast! Kind of like social media, I have to remember that I see their highlights, but have not seen their "lowlights" or the progress they made or the work they put in to get to where they are.

In pottery (an area where all potters seem to embrace the intentional and random creative & destructive forces of the craft), I found a lot of "relief" and "camaraderie" in seeing others who were "better" than me, also make mistakes, and to surround myself with more newbies in the craft. Maybe finding a few others near your skill level may make your experience seem less isolating?
posted by ellerhodes at 6:29 AM on January 29, 2021 [4 favorites]

I am a college math professor and have known about Dweck's incredible work for about 10 years. I regularly cite cultivating a growth mindset to my students as one of the primary reasons to study mathematics, as failure in math is inevitable but instructive. However, despite all of my preaching I still had a pretty fixed mindset when it came to my career as a mathematician. There are a number of background reasons for this (too many to to into) but the short of it is that the practice of math that I was passionate about doesn't really "fit" with the mainstream approach that is typically rewarded in the mathematics profession. The dissonance between what I could do versus what I was trained to feel I should do made me feel stuck in a lot of ways.

I recently experienced a liberating epiphany about this, mostly* because a student shared their own (independent of my mentions) thoughts on Dweck's work. They also recommended checking out a conversation between David Epstein and Malcom Gladwell along with Epstein's book Range, which I did an they are wonderful. These resources may not fit exactly with what you have in mind, but I thought it would be good to hear from someone in their mid-40s, with over two decades of experience in a professional that they love, talk about some of the ongoing struggles with a fixed mindset.

*owning a 100+ year-old house and trying to do repairs myself has also contributed.
posted by El_Marto at 6:43 AM on January 29, 2021 [7 favorites]

I have done some teaching in a different physical practice that most adults I teach haven’t done before. A concept that I mention early on that seems to help us the idea of play. Kids pick up physical skills quickly. They play with those skills. Those two things are linked. They try things in a variety of ways, some of which they “know” will fail but each of which teaches their body something. Folks who clamp down hard on the “right” way to do a thing they’ve never done before learn slower. Playing helps. Wasting time and materials helps.

Currently, I am learning karate. I started karate because I find it good for my mental health to have a thing I am bad at that I do regularly. None of it comes naturally to me. When I am practicing on my own, I literally reward myself for failures. It keeps me working on challenging material, and I am making pretty good consistent progress as a result.
posted by tchemgrrl at 7:01 AM on January 29, 2021 [7 favorites]

For mindset, I suggest reading How to Write One Song by Jeff Tweedy. It’s short, and while it’s focused on songwriting, the tone and advice is very affirmative and focused on the idea of Just Do It. Motivated me a lot with guitar.
posted by glaucon at 7:06 AM on January 29, 2021 [3 favorites]

Best answer: The concept of growth vs. fixed mindset is new to me, but perhaps my experience will speak to yours. I am the daughter and younger sister of good amateur musicians. I took piano lessons in my childhood and for a few years in my early thirties. Recently, in my late sixties, I started playing piano again. Even though I now have arthritis in my hands and a not-very-good piano, this has been the most rewarding period of piano playing for me. I believe it is because how my thinking has changed. I have started thinking of myself as a musician rather than as a recalcitrant piano student whose father and brother are the real musicians in the family. I think this change happened because I have a supportive and warm piano teacher and because I am, at last, assertive in my choices of what to play. Chopin hurts my arthritic hands? No Chopin! Also, I have realized that the piano teacher I had in my thirties, while he was excellent on practice techniques, discouraged me from playing simply for enjoyment and even from thinking about the pretty sounds I was making. I can't really blame him; playing piano was his profession and, also, he was probably right when he said that as soon as you start thinking about how beautiful something sounds, you start making mistakes. But I have, at last, allowed myself to sit down at the piano and make pretty sounds and enjoy them. Not all the time - I still practice by breaking things down and going over them again and again - but enough to feel real reward from my (unquestionable) improvement. The other thing that has helped me is that when something I want to learn is hard for me, the first things I do are (1) break it down and (2) sloooow it down. I don't know if those practice techniques work for voice, but they make an enormous difference on the piano.
posted by ALeaflikeStructure at 7:07 AM on January 29, 2021 [6 favorites]

Best answer: My chess started to improve in leaps and bounds after I gave up having a little internal tantrum after every loss.

Losing is a gift. It teaches you things.

The way to get better at chess is to solve a lot of chess puzzles and spend a lot of time getting beaten up by the best players you can persuade to play with you. Winning is a salve to the ego but it does fuck-all to improve your game. Don't pursue winning; pursue understanding why the game you've just played went the way it did.

The old business about a master sculptor being somebody who can take a plain block of marble and chip away everything that doesn't look like their subject? That works metaphorically as well. Losses and mistakes are just the chips on your studio floor. They're evidence that you're getting somewhere.

I also play drums. Nowhere near well enough, and nowhere near often enough, but I play them. Drums are loud. I'm lucky enough to live somewhere that my drum kit doesn't need to be right on the other side of a shared wall from my neighbours - it's way down on the back block, in a shed - but I'm still audible from the street. And yeah, I frequently do feel guilty about the terrible noises I'm inflicting on the entire neighbourhood when I practice.

The trick I use when I start feeling that way is to just drop back to playing the simplest possible thing I can actually do well, over and over and over, until I hear an accident that I like, and then trying to play that over and over and over.

And one of the nicest things that's happened to me in a long time is hearing second-hand that one of my neighbours had been asking why I hadn't been playing for a while, because he'd missed it.

If you're practising a musical instrument, you're just going to make a lot of hideous noise along the way. It's just how it works. When it happens, take a break, take a breath, slow down, pare back and go again. And again. And again.

First get it right, then get it smooth, then get it to tempo, then make it groove. That's your plan. And there is nothing the least bit wrong with being pleased with yourself when you do manage to make something that sounds exactly like you wanted it to. But sometimes - not often, but sometimes - you'll make a mistake that works even better.
posted by flabdablet at 7:07 AM on January 29, 2021 [8 favorites]

The other thing that playing the drums has demonstrated to me beyond any doubt is that thinking is too slow to be used between notes at anything over 30bpm. You might care to ponder that during your meditation practice and see if you can find your way toward being able to turn it off when you need to.
posted by flabdablet at 7:10 AM on January 29, 2021 [2 favorites]

So, I'm a bit ambivalent about Carol Dweck. I think the fixed/growth theory has some validity, but I also think it's subject to misuse. For example, I know someone who refuses to complement their toddler's drawings because saying that the drawings are good might encourage the child to have a fixed mindset that they're a "good artist", which could work against them if they struggle drawing more advanced things later in life. That said, this old dog has learned some new tricks. Rather than talk about them (talking about sports is infinitely more boring than playing sports, and computer programming is a pretty boring topic in general), I'd instead like to tell you what helped me think about what I was doing, which is a book called The Inner Game of Tennis by Timothy Gallwey. It's technically about tennis, but the lessons are applicable to many other activities, and indeed have been applied to many other activities. The most helpful part for me was about avoiding negative self-judgment so that you can be objective in your self-criticism. That is, instead of saying "I'm such an idiot, why did I play the wrong note there?", you simply say "I played a C# instead of a D". It's worth checking out. It's a short, quick read, and will probably get you thinking about a lot of stuff. I can't recommend it enough.
posted by kevinbelt at 7:13 AM on January 29, 2021 [5 favorites]

Also also: if the instrument you're working with is a hands one rather than a breath one, you might find - as I have - that practice works better if you count out loud and/or sing nonsense words as you play. That's a pretty easy and reliable way to rein in the thinkamus and stop it hogging all the brainial blood supply.
posted by flabdablet at 7:15 AM on January 29, 2021 [1 favorite]

instead of saying "I'm such an idiot, why did I play the wrong note there?", you simply say "I played a C# instead of a D"

"Wanted D got C#" is shorter still, doesn't explicitly invoke the ego, and can be thought and/or sung in almost any metre.
posted by flabdablet at 7:18 AM on January 29, 2021 [2 favorites]

Best answer: I can really relate with you. I grew up playing piano and later guitar for many years. I never played 'professionally' (except for the one time my band in college got paid $300 for playing at a bar filled with nobody at 7 in the evening on a Thursday). A couple years after college I sold my three guitars and one keyboard; I wasn't having any fun anymore, and I hadn't been for a long time. I was so hyper-critical of myself, a tendency I picked up extremely early in a radically non-nurturing 'family'. I found myself in an eternal 'plateau', as a certain kind of musician might say. I didn't play again for 10 years. The thing is, I actually started to really miss the things I really did enjoy, even if they were so deeply buried under long-held patterns of shame. So I bought myself a guitar again, and I've been trying to work through all of that shame and hyper-self-critique one little bit at a time. It's not like I don't still struggle, but now that I can recognize that pattern, I hope I can remain curious about it and just let it pass... Because I really do enjoy making music...

I just wanted to share this, because, again , I really relate.

Here's a specific recommendation: The Art of Practicing, by Madeline Bruser, a really beautiful book by a concert pianist that changed my thinking and feeling about all of these things.

Going to play guitar while drinking coffee this morning...
posted by sadierose at 7:21 AM on January 29, 2021 [4 favorites]

highly allergic to the tiniest failures

A trick that might help you there is to incorporate into every practice session a few minutes devoted to deliberately making the most hideous, most uncoordinated, most random, most cacophonous row you possibly can.

In that context, tiny failures sound noticeably better.

You'll know you're doing this right if you find yourself laughing at yourself for attempting to take the exercise seriously.
posted by flabdablet at 7:23 AM on January 29, 2021 [7 favorites]

highly allergic to the tiniest failures.

I used to think getting over this was a mental skill but it is actually a physical skill and realizing that made it much easier to do. It helped me to expose myself repeatedly to tiny little failures to let myself get used to recovering from them. And I mean TINY. Start as small as possible and just let yourself get used to what it physically feels like to laugh off a failure instead of going down a shame spiral. Pretty soon you will be doing it without thinking about it.
posted by selfmedicating at 7:31 AM on January 29, 2021 [5 favorites]

I started martial arts as an adult. I am fundamentally an uncoordinated human being, but I did improve significantly over time. I credit my relative success to working hard under the guidance of excellent teachers. If you haven't already...a good teacher can be really helpful... not only helping with good technique, but also addressing those "brain fail loops."

Unlike certain activities (e.g. brain surgery), it's perfectly valid to play music and/or engage in physical activity "just for fun." Perfection isn't necessary. The gazelle doesn't have to be the fastest when escaping the predator... just has to be not the slowest. A computer can play most music scores "perfectly," but its performance misses more human elements such as feeling and dare I say it... imperfection.
posted by oceano at 7:59 AM on January 29, 2021 [2 favorites]

I think classical music training really encourages this type of mindset... learning someone else’s music by rote, to perfection, showing it off at recitals, there’s not emphasis on playing for enjoyment or using music for self-expression. After years of my childhood spent playing piano joylessly in this way, until my mom finally let me quit, I didn’t really get back into playing music for fun until I picked up ukulele and joined a local ukulele club at age 30, and it felt like the polar opposite. All these people playing this silly little instrument, mostly quite poorly, for the sheer pleasure of playing and singing along to songs everyone knew. And it felt like it opened this huge door for me! Long journey there, but I eventually started writing, singing, playing guitar and keyboards as well, joined some bands, recorded some albums, played some shows, went on some tours... you know what, though? I am still not an especially Great Musician and I think recognizing that is freeing.

I take guitar lessons every week. (Sometimes I don’t play all week but this ensures I do practice at least for the hour a week I’m in my class!) I try to sit down and noodle when I have a few minutes in the middle of the day, since I’m working at home. This might just be scales or strumming a few chords, but I often get a lot out of playing the same scale or phrase over and over and really thinking about my body and what it’s doing.

My guitar teacher advises me to go very slowly, get everything right, as slow as you need to go, and speeding it up from there will be infinitely easier than trying to get your piece right at speed. The first time this actually worked for me it was astonishing, and really changed my attitude about how things sounded as I was practicing them.

Time-based goals, like setting a goal for 15 minutes of daily practice, will be infinitely more helpful than “I want to play X piece by Y date.” There is literally no way to fail aside from not doing SOMETHING for 15 mins. I would strongly suggest starting there... set a time-based practice goal, nothing else, and stick to it. Then try and find pleasure in the actual process as you go, now that you’ve been freed of trying to achieve anything.

Are you interested in songwriting at all? Now is the perfect time to sign up for February Album Writing Month at, a great way to find joy in music and let go of your inner critic. You try and write 14 songs in 28 days, and it’s a worldwide and very supportive community. The deadlines mean you have to give up on perfecting things. You hear many terrible, hastily written, poorly played nonsense songs and hearing music that isn’t from professionals might help you realize you’re in the same boat as millions of other people. One idea I’ve learned in that community is the idea that good stuff is a percentage of total output, we talk about this in terms of songwriting but you could apply it to practice I think. If only 10% of what you write will ever be good, the only way to write more good songs is to just write, a lot. Practicing a lot (ideally mindfully!) will result in getting better in the end. But you shouldn’t look at that as the daily goal, just make a promise to yourself to show up for X minutes a day or week and keep that promise. And try to have fun! Because that’s the point.

Recording yourself is great advice, I did this as a byproduct of FAWM and it’s really interesting being able to see and hear how far I’ve come, years down the line. I only regret not shaking off my godddamn classical training and starting to play those easy little three-chord ukulele songs earlier.
posted by music for skeletons at 8:01 AM on January 29, 2021 [6 favorites]

I'm still a work in progress, but I agree with the others that you can't think your way out of a failure allergy. You have to get allergy shots. Screw up and get that in your veins. Then you can incorporate the mental game: learn to appreciate failure, love failure, for the lessons in it that you cannot get from only winning.

I do recommend a lower-stakes (lower than work anyway) hobby to start with, one you know intellectually is going to unavoidably require both physical and neurological practice to become good at. Building stuff, sewing, drawing and other physical media art, swimming, when it gets easier to do public things you can try indoor rock climbing or the gym exercise of your choice, though pick something you can't badly hurt yourself doing wrong - go for something that has a clear improvement path.
posted by Lyn Never at 8:39 AM on January 29, 2021 [2 favorites]

Best answer: This is such a great questions with so many thoughtful responses. As a teacher and life-long learner, it's something I've thought about a lot. I've read Dweck's work, been to seminars about it, and use her theories with my students. So, I'm totally on board with growth mindset and related ideas like neuroplasticity. Where it falls apart for me is with motivation. You can believe in growth mindset all you want, but it you're not motivated to improve, it's not going to happen. You say you want to improve, so I'll take you at your word. Nonetheless, here's my experience with learning new skills.

I'm Canadian. I took mandatory French classes from grade 2 to grade 10. So after 9 years of French classes I could says a few basic phrases and read simple texts. No one would confuse me with an actual French speaker. I'm sure many other Canadians can relate. And yet, I managed to learn (some) French as an adult. Why? I had the right motivation. My kid was in French immersion classes and was having trouble reading. Rather than pulling him out, as his teacher suggested, I taught myself French. Let me be clear, again, no one would confuse me with a native speaker. But, I accomplished a lot in a year and a half. I learned how to read in French then taught my kid (because it wasn't happening in school, but that's another story!) My kid is now in grade 8 and flourishing. And I can read and understand everything he can. In fact, I'm a much better French reader than him, mainly because I have a larger vocabulary. His oral and written skills are way above mine, though, because I really put no work into that. My point is, I was really motivated to learn because I wanted to help my kid. The learning was actually fun and easy because I knew why I was doing it.

Here's something more directly related to your question. I'm almost 50 and two years ago I decided to take up guitar. Two years on I would call myself a pretty decent intermediate guitar player. Completely self taught. I keep at it because it's fun! I play scales for half an hour with a metronome because it's relaxing and I love to chart my improvement. I'll play for an hour and not even realize it. Are there moments when I get discouraged and frustrated? Yup, but I just keep playing and keep learning. I don't have to worry about motivation - it's just fun and relaxing. But if it weren't fun, I wouldn't be doing it. Being able to follow a plan in the early days (thank you justinguitar) certainly helped. But now I make my own plans. Strangely, I've found much joy in being terrible and then improving. I've also come to accept that I will sound terrible for a long time. And that's ok. It really is about the journey.

Here's a failure though. I've always wanted to learn to draw. I have the drawing ability of a 5 year old using their wrong hand. I've started and stopped learning to draw at least a dozen times over the past 30 years. Could I draw if I really wanted to? Yeah I think so. I actually produced some shockingly competent drawings when I took classes or simply put in the time. What I've decided is I like the idea of drawing more than I like actually practicing to draw. The journey really is no fun in this case. This is the exact opposite of my guitar practice or my French practice, or any other number of skills I've (competently) learned.

I guess the takeaway from this is we do all sorts of things in life because we have to. We do things in our leisure time because we want to. So, it seem to me that unless you can find either the joy in the activity or the right motivation to do it, no amount of growth mindset is going to make a difference.

Happy learning!!
posted by trigger at 9:55 AM on January 29, 2021 [6 favorites]

So. Old dogs are (literally) perfectly capable of learning new tricks. Neuroplasticity has some caps, but unless you'd like to be a prodigy opera singer by age 20, you can probably articulate skill well into age, based on learning style and how you care for yourself.

If you'd like to feel extra better, Google lists of artists or talents who blossomed in their 30s, or even forties. (Btw, Composer Philip Glass drove a cab til age 42. People are semi-frequently marked as actors in their 30s/40s, etc).

These occurrences aren't hyper frequent, but ageism is alive and obscures a lot of perspective.
posted by firstdaffodils at 11:31 AM on January 29, 2021 [3 favorites]

- practice often, for set durations. only work until the time runs out.
- come into practice with an aim.
- sit quietly for one minute, rememering the aim, before you begin.
- process, not outcome.
- at the right time, find a teacher. 30 minutes every two weeks (or whatever) could change your life.
- schedule 'play' as well; consequence free activity with the guitar.
- long view: schedule open mikes so you can bring your work to the world.

I'm new to yoga. my teacher says, " the mat is a laboratory for self knowledge. enjoy the experiments."
posted by j_curiouser at 1:03 PM on January 29, 2021 [3 favorites]

kevinbelt makes some criticisms of the Dweck approach to this, noting some parents' praising kids for effort rather than innate talent or characteristics. There's research (perhaps discussed in Dweck) that kids who are told they are "smart" are less likely to take risks because failure will reveal that they aren't smart. Kids who are told that the brain is a muscle that grows with effort are more willing to take risks and work through failure.

So, it might be worth thinking about the messages you heard as a child about your value and place in the world and what praise you received and how that perhaps unintentionally limited you.

Now, an example from my own life:
I never regarded myself as any kind of athlete, at all. I played a junior varsity sport my freshman year of high school and never again. Yet, in my 20s (I know, still young), I started learning how to whitewater kayak. I got a job in outdoor recreation where I had easy and regular access to whitewater rivers, good equipment, and, perhaps most importantly, excellent instructors, and I became quite adept at it, and in fact became a whitewater kayak instructor myself. I did that by doing it over and over and over again. I paddled easy rapids many nights after work; then I worked up to slightly harder rapids. I learned how to roll my kayak by practicing multiple nights a week in the lake after work. It took me ages to get it. When I got it, it was picture perfect, and I became one of the people know for having excellent technique to model to students. Until my technique was absolutely perfect, I just couldn't do it. Once I got it, I never missed it. I never had the courage or bravado of many people I paddled with, especially men, but I was good, and I was a good teacher--after a life of being sure I had no athletic ability. It made my realize I could achieve something in the physical realm, not just with intellect.

Also, this is making rounds on the intertubes right now, but here's Werner Herzog watching skateboarding videos and watching the skateboarders crash and crash and crash and how they embrace failure and keep moving.
posted by bluedaisy at 1:59 PM on January 29, 2021 [3 favorites]

Oh, and one other thing that might help is thinking of making music as just a human behavior, just like birds sing or crickets chirp. The skill you gain, or “output” of listenable music or whatever, is just a byproduct of the thing that you just do as a part of moving through the world. You just do the thing, because you are a human and you feel compelled to. Does a bird sing badly? It just sings. You can just sing too.
posted by music for skeletons at 2:40 PM on January 29, 2021 [4 favorites]

related: ira glass thoughts on beginning creative work. do yourself a favor and just listen - no vid. the vid is a lame animation. ira's thoughts were captured from a radio program.
posted by j_curiouser at 8:45 PM on January 29, 2021

Oh, I feel you on this one. Great question. It is a challenge to keep failing and failing!

In my case, it’s my job to get rejected. No really - if I want to get my academic research published with peer reviewed journals, I have to send my manuscripts out knowing that they may totally get rejected. (Like just the other week...)

Like you, I had a childhood of being praised as being “smart” and although I’ve since had many experiences where I wasn’t the smartest person in the room, it still stings. But what I have developed is another key talent, grit (Duckworth) or resilience to failure.

For me though, it’s mostly just a bunch of tricks. For example, I push myself to control what I can and do a certain number of send outs (first submissions) each year. That cuts through some of the possible perfectionism. Or when I submit something, I also think about the next possible journal so I can easily move to that rather than taking rejection comments too seriously and thinking I have to change everything, rather than moving forward.

So I don’t know what the equivalent might be for you with music practice, but maybe look for tricks and heuristics where you can praise yourself? Like “I finished playing two pieces all the way though today even though they weren’t perfect “? Or “I practiced for 30 minutes every day this week”?
posted by ec2y at 11:16 PM on January 29, 2021 [1 favorite]

You might not have to fight against this as strongly as you think you do right now. Define “success” here not as outcome but as process: PRACTICING every day is the task, not NAILING it every day. Nobody nails it every day! This is less about surrendering to the suck gods (“I guess I have to get used to sucking more often”) and more about worshiping the practice gods (“Dang, I am getting so good at practicing consistently; I’m on a four-day streak!”).
posted by Charity Garfein at 11:41 AM on January 30, 2021 [4 favorites]

I really like Charity Garfein's suggestion, and just to riff on it:

In addition to measuring "success" by time you put in, I suggest you might also measure:

* how many new things you learned, or how many unexpected things happened
* how much you enjoyed it

A lot of my practice is learning languages - often re-learning, which means I definitely feel like I SHOULD already know a particular word or grammar point. But getting it wrong is a GIFT, because it shows me something I can work on, something I can improve.
posted by kristi at 3:33 PM on February 2, 2021 [1 favorite]

If you will forgive some slightly tangential remarks:- As a teenaged music student my wonderful teacher had two pieces of advice which you may like. The first was that one's progress should be expected to have plateaus, no matter how hard you are working. It's common to feel discouraged during these. The second was that as the student gains skills and experience their perception also increases and they are liable to become far more self-critical, sometimes overly so. It can feel like you are going backwards, but this is not necessarily accurate.

As a music teacher I've often had occasion to pass these ideas on. And adult students famously sufffer from the second experience, often their taste and perceptions are very well developed, if they have had a lifetime of music appreciation and the mismatch can be quite painful for them, especially in the novice stages.

Rather than the growth mindset as such, you may find the "Beginners' Mind" found in some Buddhist practices to be of use and the Inner Game of Tennis as described above, is partly inspired by this. There is also an Inner Game of Music book. I quite like the lack of specific music advice of the former, personally. I can also highly recommend Zen Guitar, you certainly don't need to be a guitarist to benefit from this one IMO. Another book you might like is Education reformer John Holt's Never too late. Be kind to yourself. Especially if you are teaching yourself, ask yourself, what kind of teacher are you- are you nice to your student?
posted by Coaticass at 7:04 PM on February 2, 2021 [1 favorite]

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