I set out to write a funny and helpful post on making New Year’s resolutions. It would insightfully connect the process of learning the fiddle to living a good life.
But then I started to get lost in thinking about it all and blocked by anxieties about the new year.
Similar to beginning music students, I felt resistance to doing what I am doing. You’re just a fiddle teacher? Who are you to write an article on New Year’s Resolutions? Fear talking. And then doubt talking. Why bother with resolutions? Why not just continue doing what you’ve been doing instead of promising something you probably won’t follow through on?
This subject is tiring me out. I think I need to lie down for a bit.
I’m in LA at a Korean spa, waiting for my girlfriend’s plane to land. So I’m going from working on the laptop to sitting in saunas and laying down. It’s a nice way to spend the day, though I’m not sure how productive it is…
Research and development
My next line of thinking was, “Maybe instead of trying to re-invent the wheel, I can read what’s already written about resolutions.”
After a back-breaking research session that lasted almost 45 seconds, I learned that most people (three out of four) fail to keep their New Year’s resolutions. Some fail because they resolve to change too many things at once. Some fail because they don’t track their progress and some just forget about it altogether.
But one interesting thing: people who do succeed in their resolutions have told others what they are doing. Accountability is a powerful thing. That’s why when we do 14-day practice challenges, I ask that you tell people what you are doing.
What do I care about most?
Maybe the simplest thing to do is focus on my own resolutions. I’ll write a list of everything to see if it sheds light on the subject. Maybe it will help me, even if I don’t get a good article out of it. And if I’m extremely lucky, it might help a few people to approach the new year in a fresh way.
- Don’t over-promise to myself or others.
- Take more breaks during work.
- Take time for review and maintenance instead of always starting something new.
- Actively practice gratitude throughout the day.
- Do bookkeeping once a week so that it’s a manageable task.
- This would be a great thing to accomplish, though it does not sound fun or exciting.
- Be more of a minimalist
- Do less, acquire less, create physical and temporal space.
- Do everything with full heart and mind.
- Chores, social meetings, meals
- Pay attention to the process.
- Sleep more.
- Check in each month.
- If serious about these things, then review how it’s going each month.
But it’s a big list. It’s a lot to keep track of. If I’m serious about these resolutions, then how am I going to really do them all? Is there really any need to improve my self? Could part of the problem be that I’m trying to hard to improve myself? Maybe I just need to relax and be kinder to myself?
What do I really want to say here? What do I really want to do?
After more resistance, wrangling, and whining I took another break from writing and went back in the sauna.
Normally I prefer a dry sauna. I like to sit there until sweat breaks out and then jump into a pool of cold water. But at this place, they had a giant TV with a football game on (the Cheezit Bowl!) Arrggh. So I went to the steam sauna.
And in there, with the steam slowly filling the room, I realized that there is really only one Ultimate New Year’s resolution…
Just do this
In the same way that I try to simplify music when teaching, I want to simplify this whole resolutions thing. Wouldn’t it be nice to just have a single, attainable resolution? Something I could practice every day? I think I’ll have a better chance of actually doing it.
So here is my single new year’s resolution: Just do this. Just do the thing I am doing, whatever it is, with a full mind, heart, and body.
When eating, just eat. Avoid reading, TV, texting and even listening to music.
When washing dishes, just wash dishes. Don’t think this is something to get out of the way so you can do what you really want to do (Fiddling? Game of Thrones? Napping?)
When writing, just write. This one is tricky because part of the process is to observe where the mind goes and then record it with words. But I suppose if that’s what I intend to do, then I’m doing it right now as I write now. Typing slowly, I feel and hear the keys of the computer.
When talking with someone, just talk to someone. Do your best to listen and to make that conversation a good experience for all involved.
When fiddling, just fiddle. Don’t think about what you should be able to do by now. Try to go beyond thinking. At the risk of sounding like a hippie, try to become one with the instrument.
Each note has value, just like each moment of your day, be it having dinner with loved ones or cleaning the cat box.
I’ll qualify this by saying that I will put forth my best effort, and accept when I seem to fail in just doing this. There will be times, maybe even most of the time, when the mind is distracted. When I can’t seem to be totally involved with what is happening now.
But if I can accept this, then everything simply becomes just doing this. I’m trying to write an article, but I keep hearing the voice of doubt. Ask, “what is happening now?” Answer: I’m writing and feeling some doubt. And then just like that, I’m magically transported to the present moment. I am totally involved with what I’m doing. It may not feel that great. But all of a sudden I am aligned with what’s happening in the present moment: just writing and feeling doubt. Not trying to make the doubt go away, but to make friends with it.
Sure, it would be nice if this and every article just flowed out of my brain onto the page without difficulty. Just like it would be nice if music flowed out of your fiddle without any scratchy or out-of-tune notes. Can I learn to see the value in the struggle?
In fact, just doing this may be the single most productive thing any human can do. You can do it at any and every point in your life. And if you notice that you seem to fail miserably at just doing this, then in that very noticing you are just doing this.
Kind reader, if I put forth my best effort to write this, can you put forth your best effort to read it? If so, thank you! If not, no problem! Just be honest “He seems like a nice guy and a halfway decent fiddler, but this article kinda sucks.” If you clearly see what you are thinking, then you are just doing this!
You’re still reading. Maybe you skipped to this part, or maybe you read every word. But reading this is what you are doing now.
How can you apply this to the rest of your life? Let’s start with the reason you’re probably reading this article: fiddling.
Can you just make one note sound amazing? Let’s start by playing quarter notes (medium length) on the open D string with a D drone track.
Just play that note. Don’t add any extra mental layers to it. Can you enjoy this super simple thing?
Can you do this with a two-note interval? D3-A0 is usually a bit harder for people.
Can you just practice this creatively? Start with two bows on each step, and then try to add rhythmic variation. Then try the same exercise on other strings: G3-D0, A3-E0. Once you can make these three intervals good, try to sequence them: G3-D0-3-A0-3-E0. Then go backwards: E0-A3-0-D3-0-G3
Next, can you pick out the hard part from a tune you’ve been working on and just play that for a while? Can you leave behind the judgment of your playing?
Here’s an example from a lesson I just posted for the English dance song Dargason.
Can you do it enough times so that instead of thinking about what you’re supposed to be doing, you’re just doing it?
Can you do the same thing with a whole tune? Just continuously play it without hope or despair?
Was that hard? Were you trying to practice while thinking “I wonder what I should eat for dinner?” If so, just say “OK. I was just playing while thinking of what I was going to have for dinner.”
If you take a moment to simply notice how it went, then your time was not wasted. It may be a small step, but the next time you play, you will be a little more aware of what is on your mind and where it is going.
The amazing thing about just do this as a New Year’s Resolution is that it includes everything else in your life. It’s logical that if you can approach anything you do with full-hearted attention, then things like relationships, health, and productivity will all be improved.
In fact, if you make this one resolution, you never have to bother with making New Year’s resolutions ever again. And as I explained earlier, failure to just do this is actually not a failure if you just notice what you are doing and feeling in that moment. Just do this is a goalless goal.
Can you just do this?
I think you can!