“Flow” and the fun of working

Just read an article about the … well, the bullshit of “flow”. I’ve always had a nit to pick with the way that deliberate practice is characterized as not much fun, hard work, much less fun certainly than turning your brain off and going with it.

For me, “turning the brain off and going with it” feels like Chinese water torture. I never felt quite like a human when people observed that deliberate practice was hard, sweaty work and hence “not fun.” Even if everyone else likes nothing more than to stop thinking, that drives me up the wall.

I remember being told to practice when I was a kid, at the piano. At that age, and according to the adults around me, “practice” meant to do something over and over and over a million times while you turned your brain off, and it would just get better by magic.

I couldn’t do it. It was awful to sit there and be mindless, so I rarely to never practiced without getting frustrated as all hell, to the point of breaking piano keys, which I’m a bit hesitant to admit to.

It wasn’t until I learned — as an adult in my 40s — about deliberate practice, slow practice, and Leopold Mozart’s trick with the dried peas, that practice became fun.

Yes, you read that right. Deliberate practice, contrary to the common wisdom, was fun. Suddenly, I enjoyed it and could easily lose myself in doing something over and over the requisite number of times until I got it.

Deliberate practice wasn’t unpleasant. Deliberate practice, for the first time in my life, made practicing fun.

So maybe I’m just not set up for “flow,” whatever it is. I’m sorry, but if my brain isn’t engaged, I’m bored out of my mind.

I also have a very, very hard time focusing under someone else’s gaze. I can focus by myself just fine, but when other people are watching me, I feel like a seal being stalked by sharks. Between my love of nitpicking and detestation of being watched, I suppose it is no accident that my favorite way to be a musician is to accumulate technique and then arrange and compose. 🙂

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