The purpose of the insulating sheath (myelin) is to allow electrical impulses to transmit quickly and efficiently along the nerve fibers.
The more layers of sheath you have, the faster you learn. You build up layers through struggle and repetition - ie Deep Practice.
★ Struggle presents “opportunity to grow” (layers). Our deep practice is “in a place of struggle”.
★ repetition is essential to building myelin.
★ The Quality of full engagement is imperative for myelin growth. "10 minutes of attentive practice is worth more than 100 scales" Trevor Wye).
To “mylinate” is to shift perspective. Our “muscle memory” is myelin.
When mylinating, one is more intense, there are more notes on the music (i.e. you "see" more at once - the zoom lens of your focus moves in and out, seeing details and big picture at the same time) and time flies. Similar to "flow".
You transition from "Unconscious Incompetence" (you are unaware of the skill and lack proficiency) to "Conscious Incompetence" (you are aware of the skill but lack proficiency) to "Conscious Competence" (you are able to use the skill but only with effort) and "Unconscious Competence" (performing the skill becomes automatic).
It is empowering to know that it is through the frustration, struggle and repetition during deep practice that we build the myelin, which provides the miracle of “effortlessness” in a technique that was previously unavailable to us.
Automaticity: The more we develop a skill circuit, the less we’re aware that we’re using it. A Skill once gained feels totally natural.
That it is through failure, error detection, stumbling, reaching, trying and a willingness or even enthusiasm about being bad at something that allows the myelin layers to grow and for a new skill to be learned and then forgotten!
Deep Practice - locate the sweet spot on the edge of capability and learn to dance there.
1. break down a piece in small chunks - not playing it through, rather, put on your “Ultimate Observer” hat and “fix” every error of which you are aware. The most effective and time saving tool available is the video recorder. Another is to slow it down. The resulting detailed conceptual understanding allows you to “customize” your circuits to new situations - builds the chunks “into a private language of skill...(p.86)
2. repeat it - you’re honing the circuit.
3. Learn to “feel it”.This is a tough one - how I’ve made it true for me is that I’m going to feel it in my body, not my emotional brain. This allows me to “observe” and not get snagged into any “judgement” or “labeling” feelings (emotional brain).
Deep Practice takes an extraordinary amount of energy. According to Daniel Coyle, this effort may be fuelled or "ignited" by many things; Primal - a deadline, loss, safety. Passion, connection, words praising effort (not results) - “You must have worked really hard” and finally “Pure Art & Science” (p.143) - the awareness of “lightening in a bottle”. This is one of my favourite TedTalks on the subject, by author Elizabeth Gilbert (very entertaining too). https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4HBJa279i8M
The last component of this new awareness is to believe in your myelin miracle - not to sabotage it or undermine the efforts required to stay in the place of struggle and also to accept that you've learned the skill and needn't struggle with that one any longer. Chocolate may be very helpful in these times!
Finally, this process is the same for everyone - musicians, artists, athletes, writers, scientists, IT, engineers etc etc. It requires that we show up, do the work and have courage.
Was reading Jeff Nelsen's "Fearless Performance" email today and saw connections between it and this quote from "The HoHo DoJo" by Dr. Billy Strean....and saw the connection to readings last summer from "The Talent Code" by Daniel Coyle - all about commitment, attachment, failure and my curiosity around "Finding grace to forgive myself when my best in the moment is not what I had hoped for". Commitment/attachment and accepting results/expectation.
Dr Billy Strean is a sports coach and is curious about outcome based teams - which have short lived "success"...seemingly unsustainable and teams which seem to be having fun, but without desired outcome. His investigation is around having both - sustained commitment to goals and enjoying oneself in the process. (The Dance with Flow)
"Until one is committed, there is hesitancy, the chance to draw back, always ineffectiveness."
From Dr Billy Strean
"When one is committed to a result, and the result is not achieved, one gets curious about the gap and makes adjustments to move closer to the result. On the other hand, attachment is a kind of emotional investment, where is has to go a particular way. When one is attached to a result, and the result is not achieved, one gets upset. In the moment of not getting what was clung to, one might abandon the goal. Commitment creates energy and assists the ability to be light-hearted when moving toward a desired object." p.42.
"Another way to be free when striving is to have a powerful relationship with failure. (i.e.,) de-personalize failure. When we separate who we are from what we do, we can see failure as simply not achieving a goal. Supporting the non-attachment, we can see that a failure comes from something that was missing in being and/or doing. Failure is an opportunity to learn and adjust toward achieving an outcome".p.43
Mindfulness increases concentration and focus. With mindfulness you know when you’re drifting off, resorting to an old habit, thinking of the grocery list. You notice, bring your focus back and continue on with the task at hand.
Mindfulness works hand in hand with building Myelin - the casing or insulator that surrounds and wraps the neural circuit which grows, much like the rings on the trunk of a tree, in response to certain signals. Building myelin is essential in our practice, teaching and performing. The more we build up, the faster and more accurate our thoughts and movements become.
Deep practice (myelinating) is hard: we start with embracing the struggle - in small workable sections...detecting errors, fixing them - without judgement, just observation...its clumsy and frustrating - we’re reaching and riding on the edge of what we can do. It is “a discomfiting sensation that any sensible person would instinctively avoid....we permit ourselves to fail, which will increase myelin and in turn our skill will increase....be willing, or even enthusiastic about being bad.” The Talent Code" by Daniel Coyle
Myelin develops with “precision firing”. We develop a working perception of the skills internal blueprints - growing a detailed understanding which allow us to control and adapt our performance, to fix problems and to customize our circuits to new situations.
We find the discipline to repeat this fragile circuit over and over until the myelin has built up and that skill is now once again a part of our unconscious. When we first start, we’re working at 2 miles/hr - when we’ve built up enough myelin for the skill to to go back to unconscious, its working at 200 mi/hr! We’ve increased our information processing capacity 3000 times.
According to “The Talent Code”, we must also “feel it” in order to help the wiring fire and to build myelin. Descriptors such as Attention, Connection and Awareness are used. If one practices Mindfulness - to be “aware” is a given.
Our Deep Practice takes on a life of its own, much like Mindfulness - we start out not liking it, then we can tolerate it, then we enjoy it. Conversations become more intense - a shift in reverence for warm ups and rituals may be observed as well.
From "Meditation Operation"
Left to its own whims, the mind is akin to a wild animal—given to succumb to its natural urges for exploration. It tends to jump from one thought to another, and will often resist your attempts at making it “behave” in one corner. And in this day and age of the internet and video games, the effects of various stimuli on our mental state can even be worse—that’s why people these days have so brief attention spans. You can overcome this sad state of affairs by performing these simple yet highly effective concentration exercises at least once a day.
1. Count backwards
Find a comfortable spot where no one can disturb you and start mentally counting from 100 to 1. Feel free to increase that number—500, 1000—depending on what you feel you’re capable of doing.
2. Count backwards: with variations
This is similar to the first one, but in this case, you can vary the count by skipping numbers. For instance, you can skip by threes (100, 97, 94 and so on) or by fives (100, 95, 90 and so on). The additional mental load of calculating the numbers as you skip can further increase the intensity of the concentration required to keep the numbers right.
3. Count words
As far as effective concentration exercises go, this particular mental activity is highly effective in sharpening your mental focus. Get any book—a novel or a school textbook—and try counting the words in any single paragraph. When you get better, start upping the ante: count the words on an entire page, then two pages, then five pages, then finally, count the words in an entire chapter. Take note that you must do the counting entirely mentally and using only your eyes—do not use your finger in pointing at each word.
Get any physical object—a fruit, a small furniture, a toy—and examine it closely and carefully. Take note of its characteristics and features while keeping your mind from straying away and starting to entertain other thoughts—keep your complete attention on the thing you currently have in your hands. Take note of its color, shape, texture, even the smell.
5. Focus on a single word
Find a nice quiet spot where you can stay for at least five minutes without anyone interrupting you. As in the previous concentration exercises, this also requires you to laser-point your thoughts on a single target—this time, a single word of your choice. It doesn’t matter what word as long as it’s inspiring. “Love,” “courage” “happiness,” or “success” are good examples. Repeat the word mentally in your mind for five minutes. When you feel your concentration is improving, you can increase the duration to 10 minutes.
6. Observe without thinking
This exercise is similar to (4), but this time, you will observe any chosen object (fruit, furniture, kitchen utensil) without any mental verbalization. That is, make the act of observing completely blank as much as possible. Basically, for five or so minutes, you should look at your chosen object from all sides and angles without thinking anything about it.
7. Observe and conjure
This is the logical next step to steps 4 and 6: this time, after observing your chosen object for a few minutes, close your eyes and mentally picture the object as you’ve seen it. Visualize it by “examining” the object mentally: turn it around in your mind and take note of its features and physical characteristics while shutting out any irrelevant or stray thought.
Improving your concentration and sharpening your mental focus through the aforementioned concentration exercises can bring about countless benefits to your life, career and health. Better concentration, for instance, can significantly improve the power of your meditation sessions. When you meditate to eliminate stress from your life, attract success or simply achieve better health, your enhanced power of concentration will not only make your meditations much more focused, but also easier to perform as well.
How to address a boundary violation
Communication with your peers, supervisors and section.
When a boundary is violated, the brain emits a chemical that does not feel good....a sensation similar to fear and embarrassment, and depending on the violation - even shame. Your heart rate increases, there is a flush of heat, the Amygdala kicks in - fight, flight or freeze - and then its very difficult to address the violation in that moment.
The practice of Mindfulness will help keep lips sealed until centre is restored....ie take the time to center in order to respond rather than react (Dr David Hawkins). Of course if one has reacted, recovery is critical - the 3 A’s:
Validation of boundary principal - respect of the universal right for boundaries
Listening: Validate what you’re hearing - listen without interruption and be willing to co-create alignment. Validation is not the same as agreement. Alignment is the co-creating of the tracks upon which the train (organization) will run, which allows for the unique and diverse values we hold in society to be valued. This is difficult skill to acquire - there will be many errors - correct them in the moment, take responsibility, apologize, recover and forgive yourself. It is the effort that is important (Daniel Coyle “The Talent Code) - success will come.
Speaking: I call it “the Mr. Collins” from Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice - have a few “alignment seeking questions” in your back pocket so you can “take a breath” to respond rather than react when your body is in “react mode”. If your intention is to learn the skill of response, you will learn it, and you won’t need Mr. Collins anymore.
If your boundaries at work keep getting violated - choose a stronger boundary. The steel wall of respectful professional courtesy is always available. We do not need to like everyone, but professional politeness is essential when asserting your boundaries and when your boundaries have been violated. Lastly, we do have protection in the Collective Bargaining Agreement and in the legal system.
You know what is true and right for you. Actively manage and maintain your boundaries. Mindfulness allows you to build up strength in who you know yourself to be and to trust your body and mind response to self and others and to act accordingly.
Here are some helpful links re mindful listening:
There are societal norms for boundaries in certain roles, which have built-in limits.
A ranked and powerful position (supervisor, Doctor, boss, teacher, therapist, policeman etc etc) is in a position of trust and their responsibilities include caring for, advocating for and teaching those in their charge in an ethically responsible way. They also have the power to sanction or invalidate. Good supervision “allows for safe communication, security in risking, appropriate meeting of needs, attention to role requirements, and support of subordinates. All roles have built-in limits. Respecting these limits creates order in relationships. Crossing these limits yields confusion and disorder” (p.144).
As a subordinate;
Boundaries in the musicians’ workplace
Boundaries in the teaching studio in the one-on-one student - teacher environment is not a relationship of peers: there are tried and true limits which must be in place. However, there are many private music teachers that go the extra mile for students - invitations to dinner, traveling together to a competition. These experiences can have a huge impact on a students’ development and its important to ascertain if that close boundary is ok with both student, their parents and you....keeping in mind that everything changes...close boundaries one year may need to be a little more distant the next - especially as the student develops, personally and musically.
Boundaries in an orchestra between administration, board, conductor and the musicians fit into the “role” limits and responsibilities as stated above. However, it is less clear on stage. There is a hierarchy of “decision makers”- concert master, principal, associate/assistant principal, section and extra - subordinates support the work, but not the life. Yet these “decision makers” are also peers - ie support goes both ways. And a “decision maker” may also be a decision maker one moment (principal of section) and a subordinate the next (to concert master). It is a tricky dance for all and if the decision maker and subordinate are aware of the different roles he/she plays and their inherent boundaries, and have the skill and flexibility to wear the different hats, the work environment relaxes, teamwork ensues and artistic excellence flourishes.
What is also challenging and perhaps a little confusing about boundaries in an Orchestra is the sense of deep connection, or Flow, one may feel on stage with colleagues and audience - especially in performance. The sensation that we are separate fades away and deep awareness of the collective prevails. Boundlessness. The irony is that through well maintained and managed boundaries (self-awareness and protection), I experience Flow (loss of self-awareness) more often. I love being in the state of Flow.
Boundaries with yourself when practicing and performing - My intention with my practicing/performing boundary is to treat myself with kindness and humour. I am crossing my own boundaries if I become overly critical, belittling, heavy judgment of my talents/skills/position...
The choice is available to me because I’ve trained in it - I certainly don't have a natural talent for it as some do.....and because I know that my thoughts and feelings lie to me all the time *(see Brain Awareness in future months) and that I have honed the skill of being able to observe those thoughts/feelings through Mindfulness.
I am in progress with this - have not mastered it - not by a long shot! However, I seem to have ample opportunity presented to me to grow in this!
AFGO - A favourite acronym from Geneen Roth ("Women, Food & God") ...Another Fuckin Growth Opportunity. :)
Anne Katherine “Boundaries, Where You End and I Begin”
Through the practice of mindfulness, one is aware of boundaries and can choose size, shape, colour of your own and also notice others’ boundaries and respect them. One may choose a steel wall or a huge field with barely perceived fence posts....how close or how far those boundaries are is up to you. With mindfulness, one has the training to observe where you are in the moment and to choose if the boundary needs to soften or strengthen. Inherent in this process is a “knowing” of who you are, where you come from, what you want for your life, values, goals - where you’ll compromise and where you won’t.
Encompassed in our “mental awareness” is an awareness and understanding of our Emotional Boundaries - our set of distinct and individual feelings - how we perceive the world, our goals and values.
We can learn to recognize those boundaries through our body - noticing sensations in your gut, heart and head. With awareness, you also become in charge of your boundary balance: too rigid, too permeable, too distant, too flexible, too closed, enmeshed? or just right? Only you know.
What strengthens emotional boundaries?
“Healthy boundaries protect without isolating,contain without imprisoning, and preserve identity while permitting external conditions” (p130)
An awareness of our Emotional Boundaries will also keep our Ego healthy. A Healthy Ego will keep you safe....ie trust your spidy sense (body instinct) that says “so and so” is unsafe/untrustworthy..... A healthy ego will give you the strength to go on stage in front of thousands and perform well.
A fragile ego can lead to debilitating nerves, which can lead to an over-compensating "big Ego" - resulting in a difficult work environment.
More on role boundaries and boundaries in the musician workplace tomorrow...
What is Mindfulness? How does it help us as musicians - in practice room, in rehearsals, in the teaching studio and in performance? It’s connected to every book, workshop and moment of grace and insight which I have experienced and been drawn to over the last decade.
It all begins with the intention and attention. “The secret to success is constancy of purpose” Benjamin Disraeli
How? Simply through breath. There are many practices out there which allow you to by pass your monkey brain (CNN ticker tape that has a comment to make about everything) and find your still small voice of wisdom.
Through Mindfulness practice one is building up the myelin (casing around the nerve fiber which builds up over time and use - is the brain superhighway) so you can get to that still small voice efficiently. Through Mindfulness you have the knowing of your own Voice and its wisdom. You find the courage to follow what you know to be true for you and to see past your own understanding - to speak with “Impeccable Word”, to know “Its Not Personal”, to ask questions - even if you don’t really want to know the answer, and to “Always do your Best” in the moment (“Four Agreements” Don Ruiz Miguel) and finally how to accept, with grace, when your best is not what you hoped it would be and to forgive yourself, recover and try again.
If I partner Mindfulness with awareness of the Flow state - I experience the intrinsic and reciprocal reward of joy which propels me to greater and greater insight, compassion, and is contagious to those around us.
If you are interested in participating in a 6 free training sessions presented by Potential Partners Inc , please contact Malcolm Lin email@example.com
www.mindful.org is a wonderful resource.
Tomorrow - Boundaries "The limit or edge that defines you as separate from others. A boundary is a limit that promotes integrity" p.14
"Boundaries; Where You End and I Begin" Anne Katherine.