I’d like to share a request for help that I received from a ukulelian who was wondering how to improve his practice habit. “I keep my uke and tuner within arm’s reach but I still can’t get around to picking the thing up.” I hear ya, buddy!
How Isaac Newton, Mary Oliver, and Mary Poppins can help you practice more
Why don’t we play our ukuleles as much as we think we want to? How can we channel more energy into feeling more joy and less obligation in playing our ukuleles?
My theory is that we have Newton to blame. No, not Wayne Newton, the entertainer -- Isaac Newton ... you know, the physicist from the 17th Century. His First Law of Motion is at work here, at least metaphorically: An object in motion or at rest will remain in that state unless compelled to change by an external force — or, in our case, a different kind of force: A gust of gumption, a sprinkling of grit (the good, stick-to-itiveness kind), or, dare I say, a good, clear, achievable goal. (A tip o’ the hat to my friend and fellow ukulelian Melinda for insights on this topic!)
And the force that gets us moving might be a simple, poetic inquiry from the inspiring mind of Mary Oliver: “What do you want to do with your one wild and precious life?” Here’s how a mashup of physical law and the challenging, poetic questions can inspire us to burst out of wishing mode and into actual doing mode.
Use Physics to Help You Practice More
As hinted at in Newton’s First Law of Physics, it can be hard to switch gears, mentally and physically, from doing whatever you’re doing to avoid doing whatever you wish you had the determination to propel yourself to be doing (!).
Once you do start playing, it can take less energy to keep going from one song to the next than to stop! The joy kicks in and propels us onward. Ride that wave!
As the wise philosopher Mary Poppins once noted: “In every job that must be done, there is an element of fun. You find the fun, and … SNAP! The job’s a game!”
That “fun,” also known as “joy,” can be your goal, your unique answer to Mary Oliver’s great poetic question. When you say you want to play the ukulele, what does that mean to you? What mental image do you have? It could be any number of things, including:
Playing a song well (what does that look/sound/feel like?)
Playing with others (what does that look/sound/feel like? On stage? At a community jam session? At a ukulele jam session? With a friend?)
Learning new techniques to add life to a song (what does that look/sound/feel like? New chords? New strumming patterns? New technique, like fingerpicking?)
Learning the basic chords and strums to play it from ground zero (what does that look/sound/feel like?)
Performing a song (what does that look/sound/feel like?)
Start with one simple goal
Do you see a pattern here? It helps to have a simple, achievable goal — and try to resist the temptation to focus on ALL the goals at once. That can dilute your efforts and overwhelm your willpower. You may have a big, hairy goal (you know the drill: what does that look/sound/feel like?), but it can take several smaller goals, achieved one after the other, to map out your unique way of getting there.
I often turn to a goal-setting tool called SMART Goals to help me gain clarity and build a path to get me there.
It also helps to have a plan for getting past the usual excuses that we use to keep us from playing. The WOOP process shows you how to anticipate and dodge those obstacles that can lead you astray. Here’s another take on WOOP.
The next time it occurs to you to play the ukulele, and you come up with a reason not to, jot it down. Recording an awareness is a gust of gumption. Jot down why that’s more desirable than playing the ukulele. It might just reveal some priority shifts that need to happen, or even reveal fears that you’re allowing to swamp your motivation: Fear of failure, fear of proof that you are incapable, fear of what others will think, fear of not having enough time, _______ fill in the blank with your own sweet fears.
If you would like to share your own experience with obstacles to practicing or playing, I’d love to hear about it. If you’ve come up with ways of getting around those obstacles, I’d love to hear that, too! Feel free to email me at email@example.com.