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How I Healed My Relationship With Music


Two pink paper heart halves sewn together again a dark grey black background

I have known since I was fifteen years old that music is my calling. During the summer before my last year of high school, while strumming my guitar in my bedroom, I had a moment of profound clarity: I knew without a doubt I was meant to be a musician. From that point forward, all I have wanted is to build a life with music at the center of it. 


The beginning years of my musical journey were blissful. I played guitar constantly, loved learning new things, and enjoyed the thrill of improving quickly. Being a musician gave me an identity I had been yearning for and made me feel like I had somewhere I belonged. 


But more than a decade down this path, I realized my relationship with music had declined. Despite it still being the most important thing in my life, my day-to-day experience had become unhealthy at best and self-destructive at worst. I was unhappy, overwhelmed, and anxious. I practiced endlessly and relentlessly to the point of burnout—all without seeing the improvement I wanted. Most damaging of all, I had tied my self-worth to how well I performed and how intensely I practiced. Whenever I fell short of perfection on either front, I felt terrible about myself. I knew things needed to change if I was going to be able to pursue music happily and sustainably. 


Fortunately, over time, I was able to heal my relationship with music. Once I changed my mindset, got clear about what I wanted, learned how to manage my music material, and redefined discipline for myself, the joy and excitement returned to my musical life. 


A Mindset and Identity Shift


Behaving like I was running an endless musical race was exhausting, stressful, and demoralizing. I always felt miles behind where I wanted to be and struggled to put the brakes on my practicing as a result. When I did take the time to rest, I ended up wasting it feeling guilty about not working on music. To address this, I had to adopt a “long game” mindset. I reminded myself that I was committed to music for life and there was no deadline I needed to meet. Musical progress takes time and I have my entire lifetime to get better. Giving myself a greater time horizon to accomplish what I wanted has provided tremendous relief and renewed my love of the music-making process.


It was also crucial to detach my self-worth from my performance as a musician. This required developing what Brad Stulberg calls in his book Master of Change a “rugged and flexible identity”. Rather than music being the core of my identity, it became an important part of the larger story of who I am as a person. By allowing more space for other areas of interest, and by developing as a whole human being, my identity no longer feels threatened when I have a bad music day. As a nice bonus, being more well-rounded has enriched my experience of learning and creating music as well. Flourishing as a human facilitates my ability to flourish musically.


Gaining Clarity


As I adjusted my perspective, I also realized I lacked clarity about what I wanted to do with music and how I wanted it to fit in with the rest of my life. So many instruments and musical styles were interesting to me and I had been determined to do it all. But I needed to reckon with not having enough years in my life to do absolutely everything. I also had to acknowledge that working on so many things at once was likely why I wasn’t seeing the progress my significant practice time should have been yielding. 


In order to honour my musical ambitiousness and desire for more balance in my life, I needed to narrow my focus. Through a lot of thought and exploration, I settled on what I call my “big three”: guitar, vocals, and songwriting and production. Focusing the vast majority of my time and attention on improving in these areas has allowed me to make greater leaps in my abilities and to more clearly define my voice as an artist. While I still investigate other musical areas when I have the inspiration and resources to do so, prioritizing what is most important to me as a musician and artist keeps me firmly on my unique musical path. This is becoming even more beneficial as my career continues to change and grow, placing more demands on my time and energy as a result. 


Selecting, Organizing, and Managing Music Material


With an upgraded mindset and identity, and clarity about what I wanted to accomplish musically, I was able to change the way I selected and managed practice material and creative projects. I began emphasizing quality over quantity by reducing what was on my plate at any given time and predominantly selecting what would support my development as a singer, guitarist, and songwriter. This included making room to write music more regularly which has led to substantial growth as a songwriter and producer. Now, everything I’m doing  has a clear purpose and receives my full attention. I am also able to stick with projects through to the end—something I struggled to do when I was juggling too much. 


Another crucial improvement came from developing systems—using a physical notebook and an organizational app called Notion—to keep track of everything I was working on. These systems have freed me to focus more of my cognitive attention on practicing and creating.  Since I don’t have to try to remember the details of what I’ve been doing, I never have to struggle to remember—or worry about forgetting—something important. It also helps prevent me from biting off more than I can chew because I can clearly see exactly what I’m working on at any given time. If I want to work on something new, I can only add it to my schedule if there is enough space. Otherwise, I will need to wait until I’ve finished something I’m currently working on. 


Redefining Discipline


Addressing the bigger picture of my musical life and changing how I managed my music material made it easier to rebuild my day-to-day experience. Previously, I had taken pride in the discipline of practicing aggressively for as many hours as I could squeeze out of each day. As I discussed earlier, this unrelenting and unforgiving drive did more damage than good. Still, there was something appealing to me about discipline—especially as it pertained to music, which was so meaningful to me. Rather than abandoning my disciplined approach to working on music, I realized I simply had to redefine it. 


Instead of discipline looking like practicing for several hours every single day, it became about engaging with music on a daily basis in whatever way I could. This meant some days I would get in several hours, while on others I could only manage five or ten minutes. I also needed to stop equating discipline with a specific way of working on music. That meant accepting that I don’t always have the cognitive or energetic capacity to engage in deep, deliberate practice, and recognizing how rewarding and vital it is to make room for play, listening, and creativity. Practicing is essential, but not the only means of making progress. In the grand scheme of things, as long as I show up for music in some way every day, it means I’m moving in the direction I want to go. 


In addition to helping me stay organized, keeping a music journal was instrumental in making this shift because it let me see just how much I was accomplishing rather than always assuming I was never doing enough.


Discipline also became about taking care of myself by eating well, moving my body, and—most importantly—resting. When I feel at my best physically, mentally, and emotionally, I can offer my best to music and to the rest of my life.


When I began my musical journey more than two decades ago, it felt like I was embarking on a grand and exciting adventure. Through those years I was struggling so intensely, it was easy to forget how I felt in those early days. Now, after everything I have done to heal my relationship with music, I have a musical life that feels as joyful and thrilling as when I first started—with the added depth and appreciation achieved through experience and from engaging with more of life.


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