We all have bad practice days, where our sound is off and our fingers just won’t cooperate.

Which is plenty annoying, but have you ever had one of those days that goes beyond frustration? Where you get truly aggravated, and have that urge to throw your music against the wall and smash things, so end up quitting for the day?

Apparently, that phenomenon has a name. In the video-gaming world at least, this is called “rage-quitting.”

So why does this happen? And more importantly, what can we do to keep our head in the game when we’re having one of those days?

Why do we rage-quit?

A team of researchers conducted a series of studies to see what causes gamers to experience increased feelings of aggression.

They thought that undermining gamers’ sense of competence – as in, their ability to play well and improve – would be a major factor in rage-quitting.

So, they had participants play games (e.g. Tetris), and systematically aimed to frustrate the players by making them use a totally non-intuitive controller layout1, or adjusting the difficulty of the game.

Sure enough, they found that as gamers’ need for competence was thwarted, gamers experienced more aggravation and feelings of aggression. Furthermore, they enjoyed themselves less, and saw their motivation drop.

All of which seems pretty reasonable. Because if we don’t sound good, and can’t figure out how to get better, we’re not going to feel very competent. And the longer we feel that way, the more aggravated we’re going to get. Until we finally lose it and go all Incredible Hulk. Which doesn’t help us solve the problem that set us off in the first place.

So what can we do to interrupt the cycle, keep our cool, and stay productive?

There are a few obvious ones, that we’ve addressed here on the blog before, like:

#1. Mindset adjustment

It’s easy to jump to the conclusion that you’ve finally reached the edges of your ability, and you won’t be able to get to the other side. But remind yourself that you’ve already solved plenty of frustrating, mystifying challenges in the past, and this is no different.

And yes, you have reached an edge – but of knowledge, not of ability. Like finally getting past the end-0f-level boss in a tricky video game, once you do, you’ll be better prepared to tackle even bigger challenges in the next level.

Fixed vs. Growth: The Two Basic Mindsets That Shape Our Lives @Brain Pickings

#2. Don’t rely on autocorrect

So the most important thing to do is avoid mindlessly hammering away at the passage, hoping that sheer force of will and repetition alone will enable your fingers to intuit a solution. Videotape it. Listen. Look. Identify the problem and brainstorm some specific, concrete solutions. In other words, make sure you’re engaging in deliberate practice.

Debunking the Myth of the 10,000-Hours Rule: What It Actually Takes to Reach Genius-Level Excellence @Brain Pickings

But there are a few other hacks that might be helpful too:

#3. Set a time limit

Manu Kapur is head of the Learning Sciences Lab at the National Institute of Education of Singapore. He has conducted studies on a learning technique called “productive failure” which flips the way students are typically taught new math concepts.

Instead of teaching the concept, the procedures, and then giving students problems to solve, this approach starts by having students struggle with problems they’re not equipped to solve, and then teaches the concept and procedures. Why? He argues that this way, the students have a much clearer idea of what they know, what they don’t know, and what they need to know.

Indeed, in a study of 9th graders learning the concept of standard deviations, those who engaged in problem solving before the lecture demonstrated not only a much deeper understanding of the concept, but were better able to transfer what they learned to new problems too.

So if you stumble across a problem that has you stumped, set a time (10 minutes? 15? 20?) to struggle with it and seek a solution. But if you haven’t solved it by the time the timer ends, just move on and plan to come back to it later (or ask a colleague, friend, or teacher for some input), before you get all rage-y. Because even though you may not have solved the problem, you got a lot more out of the struggle than you probably realize.

“Productive Failure”: A Teaching Method Which Leads to Short Term Failure, but Long Term Success

#4. Get a few wins first

One of the challenges in video game design is making things difficult enough to be fun and challenging – but not so hard that it becomes discouraging and frustrating.

We could look at practice in the same way. Where the goal is to keep motivation high enough that we keep practicing, solve problems, and build confidence. Not wreck our motivation by unproductively beating our head against a wall.

So if you’ve tried to solve a tricky problem, but come up empty when the timer hits zero, don’t go straight to a problem that’s equally frustrating. Try build up some confidence and positive momentum first by working on a few easier problems – like a fingering or bowing issue on your list that you know you can totally figure out.

The “Sweet Spot” for Learning

#5. Take a chuckle break to reset your mood

If you feel like you’re starting to morph from Dr. Jekyll into Mr. Hyde, watch a funny video to reset your mood.

Sounds a little silly, but an Australian study looked at how a funny video might affect persistence on a challenging task among 74 undergraduate students.

After watching a neutral video about management, a relaxing video of dolphins swimming in the ocean off of a beautiful beach, or a funny Mr. Bean video (this one, I believe), participants were then asked to complete a task, that unbeknownst to them, was impossible to solve.

While those who watched the neutral or relaxing videos gave up within about 7 minutes, those who watched the funny video persisted past the 10-minute mark, almost 3.5 minutes longer. In addition, they made almost twice as many guesses on the impossible task as those who watched the neutral or relaxing video.

Though watching funny videos might seem like a distraction (and can be if one video leads to getting sucked down the rabbit hole), researchers found that the emotion of amusement seems to facilitate greater persistence.

Something to keep in mind in lessons, and ensemble rehearsals too perhaps…

And if you need an amusing video to help you smash through today’s first practice speedbump, here’s a great video about roommates and rubber duckies.

Takeaways

In much the same way that it’s helpful to self-monitor our concentration levels in a practice session, maybe it’s just as important to monitor our frustration levels too.

After all, there’s always a new, more aggravating, infuriating, vexing, challenging puzzle to solve just over the horizon, so hopefully these strategies will help you keep moving forward and avoid any “rage-quit” moments along the way.

Preparing for a big audition?

Do you have auditions for college, summer festivals, or orchestral positions coming up in February/March 2018? If so, you might be interested in “Rob and Noa’s winter audition bootcamp.”

Met Opera percussionist Rob Knopper and I are teaming up to teach an 8-week audition prep course, beginning on October 30, which will include live weekly group sessions, videos, homework assignments, and everything you need to be prepared, confident, and play like your awesome self when the day arrives.

If you’ve ever wished you had an organized system for preparing for auditions, and someone who would just tell you what to do, when to do it, and how, this might be exactly what you’ve been looking for.

You can get all the details about the bootcamp RIGHT HERE (enrollment ends at midnight Sunday, 10/29/17). And while you’re deciding if you’d like to sign up, you can get started right now with the FREE audition prep cheat sheet that Rob and I put together to help you start planning your audition preparation timeline.

To download the cheat sheet CLICK HERE.

Footnotes

  1. Like using the left shoulder button to move right, the “up” button to move left, and the “left” button to drop the puzzle piece.