Happy New Year! Since this is my first post of the year, I’d like to talk about something specific to the topic of the coming of the new year: making resolutions.
It has become quite a tradition to sit down and think about what we could be doing better in the coming year, whether it’s practicing music more, eating more fresh fruits and veggies, or even deciding to finally take Alexander Technique lessons.
And of course these are all good things. But is there a drawback to making New Year resolutions?
My brother-in-law, Celio, never indulges in this tradition. He tells me, “Anything I wish to change in myself, I can start changing in this moment. I don’t have to wait for an arbitrary marker in time like the New Year to begin.”
If you ask Celio what’s wrong with making these kinds of resolutions, he says, “Because it takes you out of your responsibility for the present moment. It stops you from realizing that you have the power of choice in every moment.”
Just to be clear, I like New Year resolutions (I actually think Celio does, too; I think he’s mostly speaking from principle.) These kinds of resolutions usually reflect values and ideas that we’ve been pondering for a good while, and the ritual of making a “resolution” is like a making a ceremonial commitment to carrying out our wishes.
Some resolutions are things that really do require planning and a great deal of reflection, things that can’t (or shouldn’t!) be done in the moment.
For example, if you are a completely deconditioned, overweight person with a history of knee injuries, whose New Year resolution is to run a marathon, it probably wouldn’t be a good idea to go out for a 5 mile training run without first checking in with your doctor, finding a good running program/coach, etc. You need to think first and take action later.
But how many other types of resolutions do people make that could be started in any moment? I’d like to be kinder to my work colleagues. I’d like to be more available to my children. I’d like to eat only whole foods. I’d like to improve my ear musically.
These are decisions you can make in any moment to begin to take action to achieve your goal. You don’t have to wait for anything.
In fact, if you were to take the marathon running example from above, you could even start planning in that very moment. I’ll call my physician’s office right now to set up and appointment. I’ll do some research to find a good running program.
As I examine my own unfolding urge to improve and grow as a musician, I sometimes find myself waiting for certain points in time to take action. Whenever I catch myself doing so, I ask this simple question: Why am I waiting?
Often I’m surprised by my own answers to this question. Sometimes the answers make sense. After all, for example, it’s a good idea to commit a reasonable amount of time gaining mastery over one simple component of a more complex musical exercise, before plunging right into the complex part. You have to put the horse in front of the cart, so to speak.
But more often than not, my answers don’t make much practical sense. They simply reflect a habit of avoidance and procrastination.
And that’s good news for me. Because once I realize my habit, I’m free to change it. (That’s an essential principle and value of the Alexander Technique.)
So in my music practice, I let myself to begin anew at any moment. I stay willing to alter my course, drop my agenda, step into the unknown, even open a can of worms if need be. I really need to improve my facility in altissimo. Start now. I really need to feel more comfortable improvising in unusual meters. Start now. I’d really like to learn how to get a darker sound in the upper register of my saxophone. Start now.
Begin the entire process of change in this very moment.
Some of the music students I encounter are waiting for something to happen. In doing so they get stuck into the rut of their routine. With jazz musicians it’s sometimes spending too much time learning the language of other jazz artists before exploring and developing their own language. Start now, I tell them. Don’t wait to find your voice. Discover and develop your language as you learn the language of others.
With many other musicians (including jazz musicians) it’s sometimes procrastinating dealing with habit. One of these days I’m going to start really paying better attention to how much strain and effort I bring into my playing. I sometimes feel blocked when I play. Start now, I tell them. Use this moment to notice, to decide to change. And then continue from there.
So make your resolutions for the New Year (as I have), but let me offer you this as a possible resolution: I’m going to look at every moment as an opportunity to change. You’ll be surprised at how liberating this can be, and how positively productive as well as satisfying it can be, as well.
To quote the great artist, Charlie Parker, Now’s the Time.
Wishing you all the Best Year yet….