February 20, 2022

Focus on process, not outcome

Living Opera is currently conducting a worldwide survey of freelance artists. So far, we’ve learned that 47% of respondents say they are more motivated for daily practice when there is an external goal like a concert or audition. Frankly, that’s to be expected. After two years of shut downs and global uncertainty in the arts, I’m surprised that the number isn’t vastly lower. That’s good!

Furthermore, 32% said they simply like to practice, which is encouraging and a testament to the truly pleasurable experience it is to be a musician. As Cherubino said in Le Nozze di Figaro, “E se non ho chi m'oda, parlo d'amor con me!”, meaning, “and if nobody listens, I will speak of love to myself!” We practice because we like how it feels and how it sounds - most of the time - and we'll do it with or without an audience present simply because it feels good.

But what do we do when that pleasure wanes and the opportunities simply feel out of reach? It’s tempting to throw in the towel and fall into despair, and I think we’ve all been there at one point or another. And then we somehow dust ourselves off and manage to show up another day.

So how do we accomplish a more consistent “dusting” if you will? How can we plan for consistency without the drama? I’ll tell you how I do it and I hope adopting all or some of these tips will ignite your passion for the process, regardless of the ultimate outcome.

1) Set a clear goal. “Learning new roles” isn’t a clear goal, but “I will work on the text of Quando me’en vo for 10 minutes daily until it’s learned” is very clear, not to mention doable.

2) Set a daily alarm associated with that goal. Whatever your goal is, now you need to execute on it! Set an alarm called “learn my text” and show up for it just like you would a coffee date or dentist appointment.

3) Set a timer to execute the goal. Once you show up, give yourself boundaries or you’re liable to spend all day doing that one thing! No, instead give yourself a clear window to do the work and then use it!

4) Focus on showing up, not quality (at first!) Showing up is way harder than doing the work. But if you can show up consistently over time, you’ll find the quality following.

5) Keep a journal of your daily activities. Why? Isn’t my day to day mundane and uninteresting? Maybe, but you know what is powerful? Seeing how QUICKLY you reach your goals once you start keeping track of your daily activities! It’s an exciting and motivating thing to see the progress build up!

6)Wake up at the same time every day. This is the easiest way to build a consistent routine. If you have a partner or family, tell them you need their support in this small goal. Do not let them derail you. 

7) Eat breakfast. Your brain needs fuel and starving yourself won’t set you up for a day of showing up for you and the world. I won’t go into the science of it, but google around and see why this is important. Changed my whole life!

8) If you skip a step, just pick up wherever you left off. But make sure you pick it up! I have an insane amount of alarms on my phone now, and sometimes I just can’t keep the appointment I made with myself for whatever reason. Maybe someone booked a voice lesson during my personal practice slot, or I had to take a Living Opera meeting during my gym time. When that happens, and it does, I either reallocate that time later, or I simply allow for my schedule to be flexible. After all, most of the time I DO stick to my goals, so I can look back on a log of progress that brings enjoyment and rest to my daily endeavors.

A temporary setback is a bad excuse for quitting altogether. While it’s sometimes tempting to tear everything down and start from scratch, most of the time it’s not really practical and it doesn’t deal with the root cause of why we experienced setback in the first place.

Pull up the root

Our behaviors always have a root cause, and that root can run deep. Trying to violently unearth it in one go, however, can leave you tired and wounded in the process. I prefer to strip layers away moment by moment and see what brings more order and peace to my life. In fact, whenever I feel stagnation, frustration, or heaviness set in, I do three things to quickly shift my natural paradigm, hoping it will lead me into introspection and honesty about the hidden emotional cause giving me grief:

1) rearrange my furniture

2) edit my closet

3) clean my house.

It’s amazing how changing your home will change your whole life and Marie Kondo has built a whole empire around that very sentiment! (And it really works!) 

After setting your physical house in order, maybe really you need to finally book that appointment you’ve been putting off - it could be something innocuous like a haircut, or something more serious like that physical exam you’re avoiding. See how much resistance comes in trying to book and actually keep that appointment. Why are you resisting? What is the underlying fear that is keeping you in a holding pattern or dysfunction or even destruction?

If you're having trouble keeping your appointment to practice daily, lean into that discomfort? Maybe you don't feel like you have the technical knowledge you need to have a productive session, or maybe you're afraid of putting in the work because you're disappointed about the state of your performance calendar. There are no right or wrong answers, but that answer does need to be discovered, confronted, and perhaps even disarmed so you can reach your goal.

When you hone in on the root cause of your frustration it loses power to stop you. And that is an addictive force. Suddenly you find yourself wanting to clean up other areas of your life that you didn’t even realize were holding you back, like that pair of jeans you keep saying you’ll “fit into one day”, but are really just taking up space in your life and pointing you to a future that you don’t really want, or worse, to a past that’s come and gone, or that relationship that is founded on pure gossip and toxicity, rather than a mutual aim of improving the world we live in. (Yes it can be fun in the moment, but where is it leading you really? Come on.)

Process is about the present.

The past informs us and we learn from it if we can get over our shortcomings, and the future is just an idea. You’re only alive here and now. The process is what you’re living. So choose to really LIVE it, not just experience the minutes go by. You’re worth the work, and we’re waiting on your gifts and talents to be made manifest in the world. We need them, we want them.

So go clean your room without apology, and then move onto the rest.

Soula Parassidis is an opera singer, entrepreneur, and anti-human trafficking advocate. Learn more about here here.

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