“When jarred, unavoidably, by circumstances, revert at once to yourself, and don’t lose the rhythm more than you can help. You’ll have a better grasp of the harmony if you keep going back to it.” - Marcus Aurelius - Meditations 6.11
For many of us, it can be easy to succumb to an all-or-nothing mentality. We may be convinced that working on music for many hours every single day is the only way to reach our goals. Anything less, and we feel like we’ve failed. Or we might build a strict and inflexible routine we inevitably cannot maintain, since our days are not perennially predictable.
This mindset is not realistic, healthy, or sustainable. It hurts our experience with music, and can lead to unhelpful behaviours, like not bothering to practice at all because you can only get in one hour instead of four.
The simple fact is: Life happens.
Maybe you or a family member become ill, or you have an obligation to fulfill for work, or an appliance suddenly needs immediate repair. Any number of circumstances might arise and interfere with our musical plans for the day.
Although these situations are frustrating, missing the occasional day of working on music is not a big deal. It only becomes a problem if we use a missed day as an excuse to miss more. For some people, a few days can easily turn into a few weeks, or a few months, or even a few years, if they let it.
It’s important to develop a perspective that will allow you to bounce back from any lost time. Remember: what allows you to make progress on anything is consistency, not perfection. It’s about showing up more often than you don’t, even if it doesn’t look exactly the way you want it to.
Youtuber, filmmaker, and entrepreneur Matt D’Avella uses what he calls the “2 Day Rule” to maintain his exercise habit. He doesn’t allow himself “to take off more than one day in a row for some kind of workout; be it the gym, a jog, or a hike.” This affords him the flexibility to take off time as he needs, and prevents him from spiraling into long stretches of time where he neglects his health and fitness. He is able to stay committed to his goals without the pressure of exercising every single day.
We can follow the same rule in our musical lives. If you miss a day for any reason, just make sure you work on something the next day. Even if there are stretches of time where you’re only working on something every other day, you will still be making progress. When you do have time to do more, then make the most of it. Just don’t demand that of yourself all the time.
Remember that building a musical life means playing the long game. A missed day here and there won’t have lasting negative consequences if you can regain your rhythm. Just pick yourself up, dust yourself off, and get locked back in with the beat.