I am posting this much later than I would like, but I am reminding myself that late is better than never. The funny thing is, I’ve neglected my writing for so long that I have decided to not let myself practice until I get this done. Ironic, but effective.

The topic from my February video that I’d like to expand upon is negative self-talk, which came up because I was judging myself harshly for not having done as well in February as I did in January. A lot of issues stem from the perfectionism I cited in my first post, and negative self-talk is definitely one of them. One of the side effects of perfectionism is constant comparison - between you and your heroes, between you and your peers, and even between present you and past you. For example, I was not only comparing the present February 2019 me with past January 2019 me, but also with past February 2018 me. This is objectively not a bad thing. In fact, it is a good thing that I have raw data on my practicing not only from a month ago, but from a year ago as well. Data helps us improve where we want to improve. Data shows us patterns that we can learn from, helps us find our baseline level so that we can make our goals realistic instead of abstract, and clears up any misunderstandings about whether we are doing more or less than we think we are. It has been incredibly useful to me during this project to have data on my practicing from the whole year of 2018. Specifically, I kept track of three things:

  1. The total number of days I practiced each month

  2. The total number of hours I practiced each month

  3. The longest unbroken streak of days I practiced each month

All of that was a long way of saying that, when trying to improve something in your life, collecting data is a great way to help yourself know which direction to go, or which area needs the most attention. The problem only occurs when we assign moral value to the data, aka calling the results “good” or “bad.” We all do this in many areas of our life.

“I was really good today, I didn’t eat any sugar!”

“I’m so bad, I haven’t practiced this piece at all.”

“I promise I will be good today and go to the gym.”

“I know it’s bad, but I don’t want to do anything today except stay in bed and watch Netflix.”

There are other variations on this theme, but you get the point. Data is inherently objective, but we humans are not. We are inherently emotional and judgemental, and it is difficult to look at data that doesn’t reflect a 100% success rate without coming to a conclusion about what that means about us as a person. What does it mean about me that I practiced for 25 total days in January and only 16 days in February? 16 is less than 25, so that means I am doing worse. And if I am doing worse, that means I’m doing a bad job. And if I’m doing a bad job, that means I am bad. And if I am bad, that means...what? That the best way to make myself do better next time is to berate myself about being bad? To joke outwardly about being bad but inwardly feel guilty and less than? Will that make me good? Will that make me do better next time?

NO! NONONONONONONONONO. NO. No. Here’s a more constructive way to look at the data and navigate the inevitable self-talk about it: In January I practiced 25 times total. In February I practiced 16 times total. 16 is less than 25. Yes there are less days in the month of February than in January, but the ratio does not match. 25/31 amounts to about 80%, and 16/28 is around 57%, which means there’s been a 23% drop in my output. This is the opposite of what I want, so let’s explore why this has happened.

  1. February was much busier than January in terms of gigs, and resulted in a much less regular schedule.

  2. Having a busy and irregular schedule is stressful and hard to plan around.

  3. Being stressed out often results in feeling overwhelmed.

  4. Feeling overwhelmed often results in me hiding in bed.

Because I lead a freelancer life, the irregular schedule is not going to go away. The busyness comes and goes, but I’ll never have a regular 9-5 I can work with (and I don’t want one!). This means that instead of hoping for a less stressful time, I need to find a way to work with what I know is my life. I need to accept that this is the way my life is, and find a way to optimize it. What are good ways to do this that I can immediately put into practice?

  1. PLAN AHEAD. This is hard for me, not because I am disorganized, but because I always end up resenting whatever plan I’ve come up with for myself, or because I get discouraged if things don’t go according to the plan I’ve created and then it all feels chaotic and pointless. But the data shows that not planning ahead doesn’t help my output, and my experience shows that not planning ahead does not help me feel better - it in fact does the opposite.

  2. PLAN AHEAD BEFORE IT GETS STRESSFUL. Also hard for me. When I’m less busy I’m not as hard on myself, because I still feel like I have time to get everything done. But when I’m busier, I start to feel out of control, but the problem is I don’t have a plan, and then my brain says “WELL you’d feel MUCH better if you were doing meditating/exercising/cooking/practicing/cleaning/ emails/friends/family/love, but it’s too late now!!! You have no time to do any of these things so there’s no point in starting! I’ll just make you feel guilty about it all the time instead because you know it’s something you should do AND it would help you but you can’t do it all because you’re too busy!!! Let’s stay in this feedback loop forever!!! MUAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAAAAAAA!!!!!!!!!”

  3. PLAN AHEAD BUT DON’T BE UPSET WHEN LIFE DOESN’T GO ACCORDING TO THE PLAN. This might be the hardest one of all. One of my colleagues has pointed out to me a few times that I like to be in control. At first I resisted this characterization, but then I thought, “who am I kidding?” and accepted it. It’s hard for me to remember that just because nothing went according to the plan I made does not mean that making a plan is pointless. Having a plan while also being flexible means my brain can function better, and that makes it easier to get back on the wagon the next day.

As you can see, instead of spiraling into a self-loathing destructive wormhole of sadness and not-good-enough-ness, looking objectively at data and coming to conclusions about it gave me information about how I might be able to improve. All I have to do now is put those conclusions into practice, gather more data, reevaluate based on the new information, and repeat. Why wasn’t I taught this in school? No one I know was taught to look at practicing objectively like this. I was definitely never taught that practicing could be viewed as data to collect, observe, and then used as a tool for improvement. Which is why I am learning now, writing it down, and sharing it with you. Don’t let your own negative self-talk and perfectionism talk you into feeling like a failure for not doing what you want to do. Collect data, and see those times you are inclined to feel disappointed in as opportunities to figure out how you can make it easier on yourself to do what you want to do.

Thank you so much for reading! I’ll be catching up and posting another one of these next week along with my overdue March video - see you then!