Once a month, seconds after my piano lesson ends, I vow to practice daily before the next lesson. A few days later I realize I have an entire month to prepare. Why practice now?
Recently, I watched an animated presentation by educators on TED-ED about what happens in your brain when you when you play a musical instrument. When you play, brain scans have shown that all parts of your brain light up. The conclusion: “playing a musical instrument is like a full-body workout for the brain.”
You’d think that someone whose mother suffered from dementia would take that message to heart and set off the brain’s light shows every day. But even that isn’t enough to get me to practice regularly, even though I enjoy it. It’s called procrastination. For me, it’s putting other pleasures first.
So why procrastinate? A counselor once told me that procrastination is a habit, which you can break the same way you stop biting your nails or quit smoking. But my procrastination isn’t about stopping a bad habit, it’s about extending a good one.
I found four articles in Daily Good talking about how we might stop procrastinating. One study showed a link between lack of self-compassion and stress, and argued that procrastination might “increase levels of stress” particularly among people who are less kind to themselves. If I get any more self-compassionate, I’ll also be cutting out exercise and eating more chocolate.
Another psychologist says I’m not alone. At least twenty percent of us are chronic procrastinators and the other eighty percent only procrastinate sometimes. Somehow that doesn’t help.
Among the articles was a piece on comedian Jerry Seinfeld’s strategies to end procrastination. He told a wannabe comedian to write jokes every day, to get a wall calendar that had a whole year on a page, and write an X over each day he wrote jokes. He predicted that soon the comedian would see a growing chain of X’s and he’d feel good seeing that chain. It wasn’t about the quality of the jokes, but not “breaking the chain.” Not product, but persistence.
I’m not a wannabe professional pianist, but I do like the idea of seeing a string of X’s across a page. Maybe one color for practicing the piano and another for exercising.