Are We Too Serious for Our Own Good?

You know how airlines always provide a short “safety” demonstration before take-off? Where they show us what we ought to do in the event of an emergency?

When was the last time you actually paid attention to this presentation?

I recently flew on Delta, and was ignoring the obligatory safety briefing as usual, until something caught my attention, and I ended up watching the video all the way through.

In fact, when I landed and had some time between flights, I youtubed it so I could watch the whole thing again.

How did Delta get me to actually pay attention for once?

Take a moment to watch the following video and see for yourself.

[wp_lightbox_prettyPhoto_anchor_text_video link=”″ width=”620″ height=”349″ text=”Here’s another version.” description=”Delta safety video alternate version”]

[wp_lightbox_prettyPhoto_anchor_text_video link=”” width=”620″ height=”349″ text=”And some outtakes.” description=”Delta safety video outtakes”]
Sure, safety is serious stuff, but at what point does being too serious and formal inhibit learning, engagement, connecting with others, problem solving, etc., etc.?

Playfulness and behavior change

Volkswagen created an initiative some years ago called The Fun Theory. The idea was to see if they could use fun and play to alter people’s behaviors in positive ways. Would people be more likely to climb stairs if it were fun? Would more people drive within the speed limit if doing so were fun? Would more people recycle if it were fun?

The answer was yes. Watch how they motivated people to take the stairs instead of the escalator in the video below (you can see more examples at

Playfulness and connection

When I began seeing real clients for the very first time on my first psychology internship, I was all business. I mean, depression, suicidal ideation, and panic attacks are nothing to make light of, so I assumed that my job was to come across as a serious, trustworthy professional, rather than some young, inexperienced, grad student trainee. However, my supervisors made the observation that while my clients may not have questioned my grasp of psychology, they didn’t seem to like me very much, certainly didn’t connect with me, and often stopped coming back after a session or two.

They encouraged me to be more personable, smile from time to time like a normal person, allow my sense of humor to show a bit, and have the courage to be myself. After all, how could I expect to forge a genuine, trusting, connection with another human being without being more human-like myself? This might sound like common sense, but in practice, this was quite challenging for me to do.

Playfulness everywhere?

So, whether we’re:

educating a savvy audience about wine,

…inviting an audience to an upcoming performance,

…or motivating a class of middle schoolers to practice (a band teacher once set up a system in which students had to earn practice time, which led to students competing with each other for the right to practice more), how can we tap into our naturally playful side to enhance learning, engagement, connection, influence, problem solving, creativity, innovation, and more?

How can we embrace our playful side and make practicing more effective?

Score study more impactful?

Performing the same thing night after night after night after night after night more enjoyable?

Folding laundry more interesting?

Finding our misplaced car keys more fun?

Doing taxes more engaging?

Making the audience’s experience more of an adventure?

What are your favorite stories and examples of how fun and play have been used to foster positive behavior change?

photo credit: gumuz via photopin cc

Ack! After Countless Hours of Practice...
Why Are Performances Still So Hit or Miss?

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Eventually, I discovered that elite athletes are successful in shrinking this gap between practice and performance, because their training looks fundamentally different. In that it includes specialized mental and physical practice strategies that are oriented around the retrieval of skills under pressure.

It was a very different approach to practice, that not only made performing a more positive experience, but practicing a more enjoyable experience too (which I certainly didn’t expect!).

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13 Responses

  1. I remember in college, when staying up late writing long papers, I would set out small piles of candies; M&M’s and the like. I could have one piece every 50 words. It definitely made the process faster and easier! I also make copies of the pieces I’m learning, and mark them up in bright colours.
    I will have to do some brainstorming and find something similar for the technique work that I have to do, even if it drives me crazy.

  2. Air NZ has been doing silly videos for a while now. Definitely puts a few smiles on the faces for the flight ahead!

    But I also remember being told at highschool that when studying, to make associations with odd things or funny events helps you to remember facts, figures, names and dates for more easily. I don’t see why the same shouldn’t apply to learning music by heart? I’ll have to give it a go 🙂 But I know that when I’m playing in orchestra, if I’m having a good time and laughing, for example if the conductor is a bit of a joker, then things seem to go better musically as well.

    Thanks for writing a little reminder to loosen up sometimes,


  3. I’m a dancer, and use quite a lot of funny images when practising and teaching – some I got from my own teachers, and some of my own. A lot of my favourite ones involve pretending to be animals (or sometimes avoiding turning into the wrong animals!). I think a sense of play is vital to be either an entertaining performer or an engaging teacher.

  4. I never needed “fun” to learn most things — if you already think the medicine tastes like sugar, you don’t need to add more sugar to get the spoonful down, and absorbing information always felt so good to me (still does) that it tastes way better than the sugar would. “Fun” is something you add to tasks to get people to do them who have no natural inclination to do them already.

    For music though, the “fun” part that I wish had been added or encouraged when I was little would have been making things up. Improvving, playing by ear, composing. I spent far, far too long mute on an instrument that I had spent nearly a decade learning to manipulate, if my teacher had not chosen sheet music and placed it in front of me. (I didn’t even choose the music! the one time I did, it was Billy Joel and she wasn’t that happy with it.) I was not a combative enough child to insist, and truth be told, she was a good and patient teacher who got a lot of technique into me. Even having gone nearly 20 years without a piano, I was still able to return to it with an enormous amount of technique intact. So she did her job well, and I recall her fondly.

    But there is no mastery of an instrument when you still need someone else to tell you what to say when you sit down at it or pick it up. The fun I miss not having had is the fun of being in charge, figuring things out by ear, translating things from my head to the keyboard. I feel like I lost an awful lot of time, and am now having to balance this sudden life-changing avalanche of composition that I would never have predicted with the adult pressures of earning money and making rent. I think I could have done much more had I begun this process back during the days when such considerations were not taking up my time.

    An 88-key keyboard is really no different from a 101-key keyboard, really. In both cases, you type out your ideas. I don’t know if that’s “fun” or not — it’s some people’s paid job to compose — but the classical music world when I was a kid certainly considered it fluffy and a bit foolish, like most people think of “fun.” It would have been awfully enjoyable at least, and made me feel much more connected to my instrument.

  5. My dad is always telling me these days that you have to measure everything in life by its entertainment value. He’s kind-of a crazy old guy these days, but more and more I’m starting to see his point. And it was reaffirmed to me after one of my last auditions. I was having a drink with a friend in the orchestra I was auditioning for after I’d failed to advance a round. He started telling me ridiculous stories from some of the auditions he’d taken, or the preparation process. Like practicing in the hall under a little lamp because the stage hands gave him grief about the cost of the stage lights, or in his dream job audition when he took out his lucky mallets the head fell off of one and rolled over to the feet of the personnel manager on stage. Each incident he told with this goofy wink in his eye, like, what are you gonna do!? Just gotta keep a good sense of humor I guess–what I should have done earlier that day when the stage was at least 15 degrees colder than the warm-up room and my newly-spiffed fiddle wouldn’t stay in tune. I think a sense of humor is a really strong character trait, something I hope I can develop more and more as I collect my own set of audition stories 🙂

    1. This band teacher is Professor Robert Duke, now head of Music and Human Learning at the University of Texas at Austin.

      He does some very compelling work and research in areas that are of great interest to any music teacher or performer, and is also a hoot to watch in action. Here’s a funny video of him describing his band teaching experience. And another more serious, but terrific talk he gave at Cornell titled Why Students Don’t Learn What We Think We Teach.

  6. BTW, anyone else wonder if Delta isn’t being cute and cuddly in its safety video to try to recover from the black eye they got by spanking Lynn Harrell for failing to keep them from violating their own corporate policy about not giving FF miles to cellos … ?

    Delta’s video is cute. Still ain’t gonna fly with them.

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