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The 1000 Day Challenge

November 29, 2017

​It is probably no surprise to anyone reading this page that practice will help you improve. I have played the trombone since I was twelve years old, but as I have aged, I have learned a great deal about efficiency and effectiveness. In my opinion, a simple formula will get you the results you want.

Work Hard X Work Smart= Productivity

The more productive you are, the more you will improve.

 

You can work really hard- there will never be a void of opportunity to work hard in this world. People will let you work yourself literally to death. If you aren't being productive with all that hard work, you won't get the results you want. That might make you bitter and jaded, like the world owes you something for all the hard work you did. If you aren't getting the results you want, then it is up to YOU to figure out why not. If you feel you should be considering the time you are putting in, then you need to make changes to how you are spending your time.

You can work smart- really smart. But if you don't do much of it, you will be surpassed by people that work harder than you. Extreme hard work will beat extreme 'talent' every time. You have to do both in order to reach the highest goals. There is no way around it. If you want to achieve something great, it will take great productivity.

In the past, I used to rely almost exclusively on hard work (and practiced for hours and hours) but wasn't maximizing my effectiveness. I was living in a false sense of accomplishment in my small town where I grew up, and as I gained a broader perspective of the music industry, I learned there was so much more to do. As I have aged, I feel like I now practice much more efficiently, but I don't get as much time as I want. If I can figure out how to get more time with my current level of efficiency, I truly feel that I can accomplish anything on the instrument- just like anyone else.

Background

One aspect of practice that I have been focusing on lately is the concept of practicing every day. My mentor at my undergraduate institution (David Sporny at the University of Massachusetts) used to say:

"No weekends, no holidays- You want to own those notes? You buy them in the practice room!"

As much as I listened to my wise professor, there were always days where practicing didn't happen. A day home with the family for the holidays. A travel day with flights or work or bus rides. Sickness. Tons of homework for classes. It would seem totally reasonable to have a day off for rest and recuperation, but twenty years after I started lessons with my mentor at UMass, there are still aspects of my playing that need serious work. I have witnessed players who were born well after I started college surpass my abilities, win big jobs, etc. Are they more talented? I don't think that's it. I do think they have been more productive with their time, and I do think I have developed some limiting habits that I now need to correct. In order to correct those habits, I decided to commit myself  to practicing every single day. It may not work for everyone, but I am going to try it for me. 

 

Most of my practice has to take place early in the morning or late in the evening around my professional and family commitments. I usually arrive to work around 5:45 a.m. so I have a few hours to practice and stretch before the day 'begins'.

 

 

Committing to Every Single Day for 1000 Days

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Mark Twain is touted to have said "Quitting smoking is easy, I've done it a thousand times". I think his humor pokes at the challenge with committing to something indefinitely. In Twain's case, committing to not smoking. In my case, making time to practice. Either way you have to make the choice every day. We've all fall victim to saying "THIS time I mean it".

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Dr. Anders Ericsson is credited with researching expertise and coining the '10,000 hour rule" to explain a formula for achieving mastery with a skill. Over the course of those 10,000 hours, an individual will continue to improve and work through plateaus with 'breakthroughs' in their approach or their perception (figuring 20 hours a week x 50 weeks a year x 10 years).

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I prefer to think of this as a "1000 breakthrough" rule. Instead of counting time (which may be inefficient) counting units of productive results can eliminate the "over-worker's" desire to try and skirt around efficiency through overcompensation. At this point in my career, I believe that if I practice (and experience little 'breakthroughs' every day) for 1000 consecutive days, I can achieve anything on the instrument. It's time to put it to the test.

After several failed attempts, I moved to Troy, Alabama and starting teaching at Troy University as the assistant professor of trombone. My moving day here was a full day of packing, driving, unpacking- and I didn't practice. We've all been there. But I had practiced 89 days in a row up to that point, and I had to start all over at zero. My frustration with that hit me in a way that I hadn't experienced before. Time will tell, but I am excited to document this journey. THIS time feels different, but words are nothing.

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Format of this blog

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This blog will be an account​ of discoveries I make along the way in the hopes that sharing my perspective might help inform others that are interested in the same type of journey. Some musicians swear by taking days off and I am not here to discredit that viewpoint. In my life I am at a stage where I feel the most productive journey for me will come from a consistent commitment to the practice. Here is my story.commitment to the practice. Here is my story.commitment to the practice. Here is my story.

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