Maintaining Focus

It’s a new year.  We always see this marker as a time to make big changes in our lives.  I don’t think this is necessarily a bad thing if we can stick to these changes but I always find this part of the year the hardest time to hang on to past resolutions that I had made.

The things that I’ve been most consistent with in my life are those I’d resolved to do out of inspiration or deep revelation.  Last summer for example, I’d had it with working in restaurants and decided to quit for good, vowing never to let hospitality work (or hopefully any other work) be something I relied on for income.  I’ve been pretty good with it so far, but now that we’re coming to this “fresh start” that is offered to us at the New Year, I’m thinking a bit more about some financial goals, in addition to other personal goals.  And while starting a new career as a full time guitar teacher has been something of a roller coaster ride after the consistent income of a normal job, I’m finding this desire to earn more money to be a distraction from what I actually want in life and what I actually need to do to continue my trajectory and advance my music career.

Some of us might resolve to get in shape or to eat better, possibly setting a goal to even run a marathon by the end of the year.  But we’ve got to ask ourselves why.  These are all noble goals, and I myself have made some such this year and in the past, but here we are after a week in and I’m starting to wonder what happened to all the progress I was making just before christmas rolled around last year?  

I had decided last July, after a recording session with Dead Superheroes Orchestra which I was horribly ill prepared for, that I was going to practice guitar every day and set progressive goals that I would consistently work toward, giving myself 100 days to accomplish each of them.  I did very well with that for five months and have become a full time guitar teacher, improved my speed picking, jazz theory, and joined two new bands (one of which will be performing our first concert on January 25th).  I’ll continue to work at new techniques, improving my voice, and learning more production skills.  But something happens around the holidays that I think is incredibly bad for progress in anything.

Firstly, there is a huge pause in momentum if you have the opportunity to travel to visit family and friends.  We take a week off for Thanksgiving, two weeks off for Christmas and New Year’s.  Most of those involve eating and lazing to excess, often drinking too, spending tons of money and taking excessive time away from work.  To be clear I’m not promoting workaholism, I’m just pointing something out.  When we emerge from the mess of pie crumbs, hangover fog, and leftover turkey or breakfast, we’re faced with New Year’s eve and January 1st.  

It is crazy how quickly you can ruin a well worked and consistent year within the last two months of the year.  Between travelling and buying gifts, you can watch several thousands of dollars disappear like spontaneous combustion.  And again the excessive living at that point can be enough to convince anyone they’ve been living the entire year in complete gluttony.  And I think this is one of the big reasons we resolve to do something new in our lives, to change many many things in order to be “better people.”  

Problematically we base this on a brief snapshot of an entire year instead of looking at the bigger picture.  We also try to make huge sweeping changes rather than recognizing one problem and trying to change it (i.e. we go vegan before we’ve recognized that maybe the problem is that we need to drink more water and less soda).  But the biggest issue for me is that after an already tumultuous holiday season, the distraction is perpetuated with all these new “resolutions,” where suddenly our excessive workout plan, or job search, or new diet, or anything else is cutting into time that we’d been effectively using towards larger goals.

Resolutions at the new year are always created in a state of panic it seems, and I think the better way to approach it is to resolve to return to your already successful progress.  Some time ago I had said I was going to start making more than half of my income from music, and it’s taken a while but here I am, making all but 10% from music.  But if I abandon it now because it’s not enough money, or if I add in another job, I might have to decline opportunities that would further benefit me as a musician.

After this long rant, I want to say this, offering my advice on how to maintain resolutions.  

Firstly, you have to keep your larger vision in mind and realize that progress takes time.  It can take 100 days to get better at alternate picking, but it can take several years to become a professional touring musician, and only if you work at these things every day.   

Secondly, when you feel this great pull to change something in your life, approach it with a clear and unbiased mind.  Ask yourself why you want to change.  Do you want to launch an excessive exercise routine because you’re very overweight or are you just feeling guilt after partying for roughly two months straight this holiday season.  Remember that some of these “issues” that you’re seeing will probably resolve themselves once you get back into your normal routine of living and pursuing what you want in life, rather than pursuing something because the year changed.

Third, and this is something you should do year round.  Keep of consistent log of what you are doing, what you are working on that way, when you get into these really distracted phases (I guarantee it will happen again when you have a birthday, and possibly around tax time), you can return back to it and resume the progress you’d been making.

Fourth, you must stay inspired about your life and the things you want.  One particularly troubling thing with the holidays is seeing all your family and friends after so much time apart.  Everyone is doing well, has great jobs, might be very fit, etc.  Sibling rivalries might boil to the top, or trips home might be stark reminders of where you don’t want to be anymore.  Certainly there’s validity in some of these things, but you shouldn’t let anyone else’s successes or failures influence the way you feel about your own.  The sooner you can stop caring what other people think, or measuring yourself against anyone else, the sooner you will start to make huge progress with your own goals.

And lastly, you should allow yourself to enjoy these distractions.  That’s why they are programmed into our calendar during the most brutal months of the year.  If you have trouble with all the excess spending and excess food and the distractions, maybe you should have a discussion prior with your family, or just be more vocal and transparent with everyone.  But you shouldn’t live with huge amounts of guilt over all of it.  Just regroup, and get on with your life.

I hope everyone is picking their guitar up again today, and tomorrow, and the next day.  Do you have any advice on how to get back into shredding after the holidays?