I was recently watching a jam band called Umphrey’s McGee playing a Pink Floyd jam on YouTube.

Some of their work (including the piece above) covers other bands music.  I love it when a band takes something with a magnificent base that another band created–much of Pink Floyds’s work in my opinion–and applies their own creative process to produce their own unique and fantastic product.

But, back to my point.  I was watching the guitarist expertly riff through the chords at light speed and thinking about what it must have taken to get to the skill level he’s at now.  The hours and hours of practice, the commitment to the discipline, extending perhaps back through to his youth (Gladwell’s analysis on the 10,000 hours it generally takes to achieve a thorough level of expertise in any subject came to mind).  Then I wondered how he made it through thousands of hours of practicing to get to his current skill level without quitting.  Then I realized—he probably wasn’t practicing, he was playing.  That is, he wanted to be playing and getting better so he invested thousands of hours into it.

Awareness of What our Brain Already Knows

My point? We know from our own personal experiences that the probability is high if there is something we have to drag ourselves to do it will ultimately organically fade from our routine.  But these processes can sometimes take time, even years to come full circle.  If we integrate the understanding that our brain already knows what it wants before we do—it’s not really interested in learning to play the guitar and you are dragging it to guitar practice kicking and screaming every week–we can start to shortcut the process.

More importantly, if we apply the same thought process—that the brain knows what it wants to do and may be most suited to be doing before we do—and we pay attention to those things we find ourselves running to do we can know enough to feed and nurture those activities and enable them to grow (See Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi’s Flow on the psychology of optimal experience for more on how humans are wired to succeed when they are doing what they love).  With enough awareness we can avoid being diverted away from the things we love to do by the inevitable  people who tell us we should be doing other things.

This simple dictum—to intentionally give attention to the things we find ourselves running to do while taking attention away from the things we drag ourselves to do —seems so self-evident.  But if we were all able to execute on it effectively there wouldn’t be people in occupations they hate, dreaming of becoming an opera singer or opening their own bakery or becoming the lead guitarist for Umphrey’s McGee.

So remember this simple truism: If you are practicing, it’s not for you.  If you are playing it is for you.


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