The author of this book, Thomas M. Sterner, is a Piano technician for a major performing arts center. The author admits that , in his career spanning 25 years, he had faced a lot of challenges to keep himself disciplined and focused (considering the act of tuning and maintaining a piano , an instrument that has 88 notes , is repetitious and tedious by nature). Over a period of time, the author develops a mindset that has kept him productive.Through this book, Sterner tells his method of remaining disciplined.
Process not the Product
In any form of practice, it is important to focus on the process and not on the product. There are umpteen variations of this statement that one gets to hear.The author does acknowledge this fact but goes on to add his own flavor to this statement. He uses music as an example to show that focusing on the process takes care of the product , but not vice-versa. He says
Keep yourself process-oriented. Stay in the present. Make the process the goal and use the overall goal as a rudder to steer you efforts. Be deliberate, have an intention about what you want to accomplish, and be aware of that intention. Doing these things will eliminate the judgments and emotions that come from a product-oriented or results-oriented mind.
It’s How You Look At It
The author gives a beautiful analogy of a flower to shift one’s perspective towards everything in life. He says
Ask yourself: at what point in a flower’s life, from seed to full bloom, has it reached perfection? Let’s look at this right now and see what nature is teaching us every day as we walk past the flowers in our garden. At what point is a flower perfect? Is it when it is nothing more than a seed in your hand waiting to be planted? All that it will ever be is there in that moment. Is it when it first starts to germinate unseen under several inches of the soil? This is when it displays the first visible signs of the miracle we call creation. How about when it first pokes its head through the surface and sees the face of the sun for the first time? All of its energies have gone into reaching for this source of life; until this point, it has had nothing more than an inner voice telling it which way to grow to find it. What about when it begins to flower? This is when its own individual properties start to be seen. The shape of the leaves, the number of blooms are all unique to just this one flower, even among the other flowers of the same species. Or is it the stage of full bloom, the crescendo of all of the energy and effort it took to reach this point in its life? Let’s not forget that humble and quiet ending when it returns to the soil from where it came. At what point is the flower perfect? I hope you already know that the answer is that it is always perfect.
Using this example, the author suggests that by following present-minded approach , one can experience a tremendous relief from the fictitious, self-imposed pressures and expectations that only slow one’s progress.
Perception Changes Create Patience
Patience is probably at the top of everyone’s list of most sought-after virtues. One of the reasons that we become impatient is we step out of the NOW There is a saying that states that most of what we worry about never comes to pass. Thinking about a situation before you are in it only scatters your energy. The first step toward patience is to become aware of when your internal dialog is running wild and dragging you with it. If you are not aware of this when it is happening, which is probably most of the time, you are not in control. The second part is understanding and accepting that there is no such thing as reaching a point of perfection in anything. True perfection is both always evolving and at the same time always present within you, just like the flower.
Progress is a natural result of staying focused on the process of doing anything. When you stay on purpose, focused in the present moment, the goal comes to you with frictionless ease. However, when you constantly focus on the goal you are aiming for, you push it away instead of pulling it toward you. In every moment of your struggle, by looking at the goal and constantly referencing your position to it, you are affirming to yourself that you haven’t reached it. You only need to acknowledge the goal to yourself occasionally, using it as a rudder to keep you moving in the right direction.
Suppose you are trying to learn how to play a piece of music and you come from this new perspective. Your experience will be totally different than what we usually think of in terms of learning to play a musical instrument. In the old way, you are sure that you are not going to be happy or “successful” until you can play the piece of music flawlessly. Every wrong note you hit, every moment you spend struggling with the piece, is an affirmation that you have not reached your goal. If, however, your goal is learning to play the piece of music, then the feeling of struggle dissolves away. With each moment you spend putting effort into learning the piece, you are achieving your goal. An incorrect note is just part of learning how to play the correct note; it is not a judgment of your playing ability. In each moment you spend with the instrument, you are learning information and gaining energy that will work for you in other pieces of music. Your comprehension of music and the experience of learning it are expanding. All of this is happening with no sense of frustration or impatience. What more could you ask for from just a shift in perspective?
Four S words – Simplify, Small, Short and Slow
The author shows the interconnectedness between these words and the way these 4 words can be used to structure any work, be it following a fitness regimen / coding an algo / playing an instrument / cleaning up the house etc. Any task that is overwhelming at the first sight, might put us off and sometimes we tend to permanently shelve it. But once we simplify the goal, divide this simplified goal in small sections, do these sections in short durations at a slow pace, paradoxically , we get far more things done efficiently. This might sound all very obvious, but then it is relevant to ask oneself a question, “ When was the last time you did all the four things – Simplified a project, Took a small section, worked on it for a short time and more importantly slowly ? “ More than any other place, I can relate this to music. You can’t master a raaga without the 4 components mentioned. You have to simplify the goal of a 1.5 hr typical rendition of a raaga, Divide in to small sections ,Practice on one of the the small sections in a short interval , lets say 45 min, and more importantly practice it slowly. “ My Sitar guru was mentioning the other day about “Budhaditya Mukherjee”, a Sitar Maestro. In an interview, when asked about his practice regimen, he replied that he practiced 3 hrs in the morning and 3 hrs in the evening and more importantly , he does it EVERY SINGLE DAY. Unlike Ravi Shankar’s of the world who quote that they practice 15 hrs – 20 hrs a day, which seems to be practically impossible for a human being, Budhaditya Mukherjee’s ritual sounds more pragmatic and realistic. In the same interview, he also mentions that a combination of Simplify + Small + Short and Slow are quintessential to master a raaga.
Equanimity and DOC
Calmness and even-tempered are the words that go along with equanimity. These are the characteristics that are desirable when we are working on something. However there is an evil beast called “Judgement” that sometimes jumps upon us.Judgment is inevitable in our lives, but it becomes pathological when we overdo it. Most of times we overdo it. We judge everything in life and most of it unconsciously. We imagine hypothetical scenarios and think about the possible outcomes and possible judgments that we would make / others would make in such scenarios. Its like running simulations to create parallel worlds and checking the parameter values. It is good in statistics as alternate worlds gives confidence intervals on parameters. It is detrimental when we are working on something as it robs us from the NOW. It happens to all of us. We are doing something, be it running/ reading / programming/ playing an instrument etc. Instead of just being in the present, we start judging it. We are thinking of the next activity that needs to be done / we think of some odd conversation with someone/ we imagine hypothetical situations etc. We try to engage ourselves unconsciously in things that have nothing to do with what we are CURRENTLY doing. The judgement gives rise to emotions and they stem from a sense that “this is right and that is wrong” or “this is good and that is bad.” Right and good make us happy while bad and wrong make us upset or sad. We feel that right and good are at least approaching “ideal,” while wrong and bad are moving away from it. We all want to be happy and have an ideal life, but what constitutes right and wrong is neither universal nor constant. The evaluations and judgments we make unconsciously in every second of our lives jump-start our emotions and bring us so much anxiety and stress.What can be done about it ? Doing work with out judgement part is far more effective as the execution of the task would be that much more clinical.
The author suggests “meditation” as a means to get out of this ever-judgmental mode of mind. He also offers another adjunct method,which he calls “ DOC – Do + Observe + Correct”. He gives anecdotes and experiences from his work as a Piano technician that bring out the importance of DOC to perform tasks efficiently. Using DOC repetitively for most of the tasks that we do in our daily lives, it is possible to remove judgement that clouds our thinking and execution. The C in the DOC refers more to evaluation and not judgment. Evaluation comes before the action of passing judgement. After evaluation, you skip the judgement part and then go over DOC cycle, as judgment has no value in DOC mindset.
Teach and Learn from Children
Time perception is an integral part of the difference between adults and children. In general, Children don’t seem to have a sense of where they are going in life. There is today and that’s it. They live in the present moment, but not really by their own choice; it’s just how they are. So, making them do any activity like learning to play an instrument / work on something which takes time and effort to master, is difficult as they don’t see a point in doing it. There is no instant gratification in learning math / learning an instrument. It is usually an activity which will involve a lot of struggle/failures etc. So,there is a paradox here. What’s frustrating as an adult, with regard to teaching them to stay in the present when they are engaged in something that requires perseverance, is that they can’t see the point. Why work at something that requires a long-term commitment, a perception of time outside the present moment? Children are always in the NOW and adults find it difficult to be in the NOW. Is there something that Parents and Children can learn and teach each other ? The author shares his experiences in dealing with her two daughters in this context.
A Piano technician’s job from the outside looks repetitive. This book provides a different perspective of the work and in doing so, provides valuable guidance for deliberate practice.