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Is my fixed mindset hindering my progress?

Mindsets

I recently read the book Mindset by Carol Dweck. My coach, Camilla, who is helping me Get Things Done, suggested I read it after I mentioned my fear that no one will read my book other than friends and family. (My book is about thank you note writing).

I realized that I developed a fixed mindset with my organ practice!

Mindsets

In Mindset, I quickly learned about fixed and growth mindsets. The fixed mindset believes that we can’t change much. That our qualities are what they are and we can’t improve beyond a certain level. The result is, as Carol puts it, “If you only have a certain amount of intelligence, a certain personality, and a certain personality, and a certain moral character – well then you’d better prove you have a healthy dose of them.”

The growth mindset believes that we can change. We can learn more. We can work hard and improve at things. Your true potential isn’t known. Carol says “This growth mindset is based on the belief that your basic qualities are things that you can cultivate through your efforts”.

The book points out that we can have fixed mindset in some areas of our lives and growth mindset in others.

My fixed mindset with organ practice

I have been taking lessons for several years. Sometimes I have felt like my progress has plateaued. I felt that way even after Michael has told me that my he believes that “I have the chops”.

Since learning about mindsets, I believe I developed a fixed mindset towards my organ practice. I had a growth mindset at the start of lessons since I believed that I could learn to play the organ as an adult.

Evidence of my fixed mindset:

  • I began to resist marking up my music. I felt like I shouldn’t have to do that anymore after all these years. Michael adds marks to my music at nearly every lesson. And I’ve seen the markings on his scores. Yet, I still felt like I should be able to play without so many marks.
  • After years of practice, I continue to struggle with syncopation. I’ve felt like its become part of my identity as an organist. “The organist who can’t handle syncopation”.
  • Failing to practice consistently the week before a lesson believing that a little more practice will not make much difference so what was the point.
  • Beginning to believe that I can’t play as well at a lesson as I can at home.

I had a fixed mindset BEFORE the organ in other areas

I was able to identify with many of the stories in the book. They were several involving school and learning. One of them was about drawing. When I was in seventh grade art class we had to draw a portrait of the student seated across from us. My drawing was not great. I’ve felt like I could not become good at drawing based on that one attempt. In the book people who took a drawing class were able to improve!

Another story was about math. In high school, I felt very successful at math. I earned student of the month while taking geometry for receiving 100% on every test that month (and maybe homework assignments). Fast forward to college. I had decided to study math because “I was good at it”. Well, college math was much harder! I received a D in Physics (I got an A in the lab!) and a D in calculus. I was not so smart after all! I had to retake calculus. The issue was that my math skills going into those classes were not strong enough. I didn’t want to admit this as I was the one in the family that was supposed to be good at math. This was a fixed mindset.

How is your mindset? Fixed or Growth?

One of the insights in this book, was that just be learning about mindsets we can make different choices.

There are also sections about raising kids and how to praise them in a way to encourage them to have growth mindset instead of fixed. Stop telling that that they are smart!

Further Reading:

The book: Mindset by Carol Dweck.
Brain Pickings: Fixed vs. Growth: The Two Basic Mindsets That Shape Our Lives
Bullet Proof Musician: Why the Wrong Kind of Praise Can Undermine Our Students’ Confidence

How does that piece go again?

Kilala cat on the organ bench
Kilala cat on the organ bench

My cat Kilala sitting on the organ bench next to me as I practice

At the end of last year, I discovered that I am not able to easily play most of the pieces I have learned.

The revelation

My brother’s family came for about 4 and a half hours away to visit family in the area on New Year’s weekend. Knowing that they were coming, I wanted to be prepared if they asked to come over and hear me play something.

I have been taking lessons for six years so I should be able to put on a mini-concert at my home on demand. Usually, only my cats are around when I am practicing and they do not seem to mind hearing the same assigned pieces over and over again.

I attempted to play the Christmas hymns that I learned in prior years. The next piece I tried was “Oh Love, How Deep”, which I once knew well enough to put on YouTube. The muscle memory was not as strong as it once was! I struggled to play them through.

The habit problem

I have developed a habit of not playing pieces after they get approved at a lesson. I am usually ready to move on to the next newly assigned piece.

Since I’m not performing anywhere on a regular basis, I hadn’t really considered what would happen if I stopped playing what I’ve learned. Well, I found out the hard way!

The new goal

My goal new is to form a new habit where I play already learned pieces on a regular basis, at least once a week. As a result, I will be able to play more than what I am currently learning if someone stops by and wants to hear me play.

I am currently reading “Better Than Before” about forming habits. One suggestion from the book is to giving new habit a rhyme:

An idea expressed in rhyme, seems more convincing that the same idea paraphrased in a non-rhyme, which is why “Haste makes waste”, is more compelling than “Haste fosters error”.

So far, the rhyme I have come up with is “Stay Fresh Refresh”. However, that sounds like it could be a tag line for a deodorant commercial!

What suggestions do you have for the rhyme that will help my new practice habit stick?

October 2015 Lesson – Gaining Confidence

My cat Kilala standing on the keys while I was practicing.
My cat Kilala standing on the keys while I was practicing.

My cat Kilala standing on the keys while I was practicing.

On Halloween I met with Michael for another lesson. I left the lesson feeling more confident than ever before as 4 of my 6 assigned pieces received a passing mark!

The Lesson

I began the lesson by playing the Walcha prelude. At my previous lesson I was not able to play it in a convincing manner. I had not practiced it enough. After that lesson, I decided to play it each time I practiced until my next lesson. This strategy worked! I only had to play it one time through for Michael. He approved it!

Next up was the Bach prelude. I played it, but not perfectly. Micheal remarked that it was improved since last lesson. Then he had me play it again a little faster and without thinking about the tempo so much. It was the best I have ever played it at a lesson!!! Michael said it was good! Finally, after 2 years and 2 months he did not need to hear it at another lesson!

I also received approval on my playing of two of the three assigned hymns: “God Be With You Until We Meet Again” and “Christ, Mighty Savior”.

A mistake in practice…

The Boellmann piece (Prière à Notre-Dame) didn’t go all that well. When practicing at home I focused on learning the parts for the hands without pedal. The pedal line is not difficult so I thought it would be easy enough to add in later. This was a mistake. Adding it in the week of my lesson didn’t work! I was not able to build the muscle memory and coordination to accurately play the pedal and hands together. I have learned from this and will be including the pedal line during practice even when it looks easy!

Gaining Confidence

Since this lesson I  have felt more confident tackling the newly assigned pieces. This was the first time to have 4 pieces approved at the same lesson. And I was assigned 4 new pieces! I have realized that Michael would not have assigned me these pieces if he didn’t think I could do them.

I also feel confident that I can correct my syncopation issues in “Lo, He Comes with Clouds Descending” before my next lesson.

Will this lesson become a major turning point? Only time will tell!