Tuesday, June 6, 2017

Practice Tip: Adjusting Expectations

Piano practice time will sometimes be frustrating.

No student or parent will tell you they graduated from Let's Play Music without having SOME times when it was a little tough to get motivated, stay on task, and get all of the week's practices in.

But, overcoming these struggles is part of what we're teaching in LPM! In this post, I want to share one tip for parents to help relieve some of the frustrations that arise.

Adjust your Thinking

Maya Angelou said it this way, 

"What you're supposed to do when you don't like a thing is change it. If you can't change it, change the way you think about it. Don't complain."

When I find myself frustrated in interactions with my child, I step away and take a moment to examine my thoughts. 

I notice frustration arises in me when I have a story about how things should be going, and about what my child should be doing...and the story is not the same as reality! 

There's a big gap between what I expect and what is real. The disconnect between my story/belief and my reality is what starts all my inner turmoil. 

Today I'll give you some ways to bridge that gap in your thinking so you can let go of frustration and start to change what you don't like. 

Step One: Lose the 'should'

Take a minute, and think about what you expect and what you believe SHOULD happen at practice time. Notice the word should. If you find yourself thinking of how things should be, then you've zeroed in on the narrative that runs in your thinking. This story is how you expect things to happen.  

Write down a few ideas of what you really expect to see at practice. Your list will be individual; you have your own expectations and your child is different from any other!

Sometimes, things go as you believe they should. Sweet joy! Your mind is at ease.

Other times, things go very differently than how you believe they should, and that's frustrating. Notice I didn't say how you WOULD LIKE, or prefer, or hope. That's a little different.

Step one is all about accepting reality.  Sure, you would like your child to be the one to remember to practice and to initiate practice time every day.  But is that what is actually happening in your home?  If you honestly expect it and it doesn't happen, you will get stressed out!

ASSIGNMENT: Make a list of things you catch yourself thinking should happen, 
and then compare it to what really happens.

Step Two: Flip It Over

Okay, this may seem strange, so just trust me for a minute.  

What if you went down the list of what REALLY happens, and you imagined that as your new narrative. What if you went so far as to make reality what should happen?!

Yes, she should need reminding to practice, because building a practice habit takes years of repetition.

Yes, she should get frustrated, because this is going to be mentally strenuous, and yes, I expect her to whine because she's not very practiced yet at expressing her frustration.

Yes, I expect her to want to be the expert, because she'll want to be proud of her knowledge and independent. She hasn't learned yet how to fit in advice from mom with her desire to feel accomplished.

Yes, I expect her to get distracted and fatigued and try to create diversions, because her mind is accustomed to easier things, and I'm trying to push her out of her comfort zone.

Each time reality happens, you can say to yourself, "I'm so frustrated! This is not how things SHOULD happen!" or you can say to yourself, "Yeah, this is about what I expected."

At this point, nothing has happened differently, but do you FEEL differently? 

When you let go of your attachment to thinking that things should be going a certain way, do you feel more relaxed?  Less stressed?

THAT'S what I'm looking for. You are thinking about the frustrating situation in a new way, and you're mentally ready to do something productive.

ASSIGNMENT: Read through your list of how things really play out.
Practice saying, YES, this is what I expect to happen.
Evaluate: How do you feel when you approach this situation with the new expectation?

Step Three: Hopes and Goals

Now you may be mentally calm and prepared to approach practice time with acceptance. 

"But Gina!" you're saying, "If I let go of my expectations of how things should be, how will we ever make progress?"

Good point, reader.  I don't wish for you to become complacent with reality, I just don't want you to be surprised by it any longer.  

You'll approach practice time with the narrative, "Yeah, this is what I expected. Right now, practice time is challenging both mentally and emotionally for me and my child."

You know the facts. You know the reality. You're not afraid.  Then you say, "Okay, this is my reality. What am I going to do to make it better?"

Maya Angelou said when you don't like a thing, change it! You have to expect reality, and brainstorm what you'll do to improve it.

Embrace Reality:
When I sit with Zelda to practice today, I expect her to start whining as soon as I ask her to play with both hands together. I won't get flummoxed when she does, because it's exactly what I expect.

Find a Postive Action:
What can I do to change that?  Maybe I'll give her a pep talk beforehand and see if that helps. 

"Zelda, I noticed yesterday you were really nervous about playing both hands together. Is that the toughest part about practice today? Yes? I am really pleased when I see you try hard things, and it's okay if it doesn't turn out perfect- we just have to try.  Today when we get to that song, will you play it through TWO times? Yes?  Now, I know that when things get tough, it's very tempting to whine or cry a little. I'm going to be watching to see if you can try TWO times on that song without crying. Maybe you can take a big breath, or you can make a serious face...what can you do besides crying when something is tough? If you can do that, I'll be excited. That will show that you're growing up! Okay, ready to warm up?"

Celebrate Progress:
Well, Zelda still fussed and complained about the assignment but it was less than yesterday, so I think we're making progress. And I stayed calm, because I had realistic expectations of where we are and where we are going.

We don't have to throw away the ideas from your expectation list, we just move them to a new list called hopes and goals.

ASSIGNMENT: Visualize how you would love to see practice go and write a list of hopes and goals. Check-in periodically to see if reality is getting closer to your goals. What actions can help you get closer to the goals?

Parents, too!
You'll notice my expectations and shoulds were all focused on how I expect the children to behave.  Let's not forget that self-talk and narratives also include the expectations we have of ourselves!  

Go through these 3 steps again, considering how you already expect yourself to behave. 

Do you feel like giving up when reality does not align with those expectations?

Or can you use these steps to be kind to yourself, acknowledge the struggle and give yourself room to grow toward your hopes and goals?

Don't be complacent. Change what you don't like. If you can't change it, change how you think about it.

Helping your child learn to practice is worth it. Don't give up.

- Gina Weibel, M.S.
Let's Play Music teacher

P.S. If you'd like to use this type of thinking process to turn around frustration in other relationships and activities in your home, you'll enjoy The Work, by Byron Katie

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