Of all the things that music teachers do, probably one of the most important, powerful, and incredibly demanding tasks is motivating students. That is challenging at the best of times because we all come to music for very different reasons. But how do we motivate our self?
To motivate means, “to make someone want to do something well” (dictionary.cambridge.org) or “cause (someone) to have interest in or enthusiasm for something” (lexico.com). In light of this definition, in many ways, one could argue that motivation is far more important than talent, skill, or intelligence. It is the driving force behind persistence and perseverance, especially when facing adversity or disappointment. Yet, knowing something isn’t enough of an incentive to cause change. For example, we know we should be consistent, focused, and deliberate in our practicing but, how often are we aware that we should practice but don’t?
Although we are often tempted to reward or punish ourselves for certain behaviours, after a while, the external reward is not much of an incentive anymore. And even when we do attain our goal of, for example, learning to play a particular piece or reaching a certain level, the pleasure is often short-lived or not as satisfying as we had hoped and we look to that next goal to fulfill us. Still, how do we motivate our self?
I certainly don’t have all the answers and what motivates one person does not necessarily motivate another. However, the feeling of progress and accomplishment certainly boosts confidence and pride. Our accomplishments make us feel good. The task, then, is to make sure the challenges are demanding enough to keep us engaged in expanding our skills yet easy enough not to be discouraging or overwhelming. In his book, Finding Flow: The Psychology of Engagement With Everyday Life, Mihaly Csíkszentmihályi emphasises that the right challenge is “a constant balancing act between anxiety where the difficulty is too high for the person’s skill, and boredom where the difficulty is too low.” The key to success and the root of motivation, then, is making sure that we have consistent wins and the challenge before us is neither too demanding nor too easy.
Simply put, small daily achievements or wins that stretch us just a bit out of our comfort zone but still feels doable accomplishes much more than the rare colossal win. It is still important to identify what those big wins are for each of us but in order to achieve them, we must break them down into easy steps that allows us to experience constant victories and wins. These daily accomplishments continue to motivate us “to do something well” and increase our interest and enthusiasm for what we do.
That said, we must also remember our deepest motivation. That is, we must know and understand our “why.” As Simon Sinek observed, “People are engaged and motivated by why we do things more than what we do.” In other words, we must remind our self of the reason or purpose for what we do. The reason or purpose for why we play music can be varied and diverse as there are faces and personalities, but as teachers of our own self, we must remind our self of the reasons that brought us to the instrument and what we would like to achieve. Self-generated goals that align with what is important to us are great motivators. As Roy T. Bennett wrote, “Don’t be pushed around by the fears in your mind. Be led by the dreams in your heart.”
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