Build good habits and become a better musician

by Glyn

posted on March 14, 2018.

As well as being passionate about self-development, here at NurtUp we’re a musical bunch; Daniel is a skilled multi-instrumentalist, Hajni plays guitar and bass, and I dabble with cello, bass guitar and Irish bouzouki.a guitar and a bass

Every musician knows that they’re supposed to practise every day, but putting this into action consistently is something many of us struggle with. For me there was one notable exception: back in 2002 I got into a pretty good rehearsal routine, practising most days for about half an hour. Before and since my practising has been patchy at best, and absent at worst!

So it was when Daniel and I started our current band. It quickly became clear how badly my bass skills had deteriorated, I resolved to rediscover the secret of a regular practice schedule, even if it required a little brain-hacking!

There’s been a lot of good research in recent years on habit formation, so I quickly understood where my troubles come from. At the same time learned the likely reason for my unusual run of self-discipline back in the early 2000s.

How habits are formed

A trigger initiates a behaviour which leads to a reward with reinforces the trigger.

The habit cycle.

A habit requires three things:

  1. A trigger. Some event that tells the brain that it’s time to initiate the habitual behaviour.
  2. The behaviour itself.
  3. The reward. Something that makes the effort worthwhile (from the point of view of your reptilian hind-brain).

It seems that in 2002 I had serendipitously stumbled into this pattern: I used to practise every evening as soon as I got in from work, so that became the trigger. The behaviour, of course, was rehearsing our band’s songs, and the reward was the sense of accomplishment that came from seeing a challenging bassline getting easier day by day.

Nowadays I often work from home so I couldn’t reuse the old trigger. Instead I practise after breakfast and before starting work. To make it easy for myself I keep the bass next to my desk, out of its case and ready to be picked up and played.

Of course this approach isn’t just for musicians. You can apply it to anything you want to do regularly — exercise and meditation are obvious examples. Find something you already do almost every day, like waking up or brushing your teeth, and follow it with the desired new behaviour. In no time at all it’ll be harder to not do the new activity!


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