Yes Practice? No Practice? Why You Must Decide

Make a decision
to practice or not. Commit,
and then just do it.
(Why the haiku? TMQ)


It’s reasonably easy to stick with a consistent practice routine during the parts of the year where a regular class or work schedule is there to keep us honest. The routine becomes a habit, and for the most part, we just go along with it.

But holidays and breaks throw a monkey wrench into our established routine and our practice habits can suffer.

I remember those days where I’d wake up, tell myself that I really ought to practice, but put it off until later. “I just woke up” I’d say. “After breakfast” I’d promise myself. Pretty soon it’d be lunchtime, and I’d tell myself that it made more sense to practice after lunch instead of practicing hungry. Of course I’d feel too sluggish to practice after lunch, and since I wasn’t practicing anyway, decide I might as well watch some TV. One show would lead to another, and I’d keep rationalizing until pretty soon it was time for bed and all I could do was kick myself for being so unproductive.

Sound familiar?

I once worked with a mixed martial arts fighter, who as intensely motivated as he was, would occasionally feel like he needed a day off too. But he could not give himself permission to take the day off. He’d fritter the day away doing this and that until it was too late to get in a good workout. Of course, that would just make him feel guilty about how unproductive his day was.

When we fail to take a stand and make a decision, we’re wasting the day in more ways than one. Not only are we not practicing, but we’re not getting the full mental, emotional, and physical benefit of a true day off either. And the guilt certainly isn’t doing us any good.

Take action

With the holidays now upon us, there will probably be a few days here and there where you won’t feel like putting in your hours. Rather than going back and forth about it all day, set aside a few minutes in the morning to think about what you want or need and what’s realistic. Take a stand, and make a definitive decision one way or the other. If you’re going to practice, set a time, a place, an agenda, and just do it (setting a specific time, place, and agenda will increase the likelihood that you’ll actually follow through).

On the other hand, if you’re not going to practice, give yourself permission to take the day off and avoid second guessing yourself or dwelling on it any longer. Stick with your guns, and lock yourself into your decision so you have no choice but to really make the most of your day off. Do something fun, relaxing, whatever it is that you feel you need.

Bonus application

This also applies to folks who are trying to make it a habit to wake up early and work out.

Most of us wake up to the alarm, and then get sucked into a dialogue with that voice in our head, which at 5am, has some awfully convincing reasons why we ought to hit the snooze button and go back to bed. Thing is, 5am is a crappy time to make a decision.


Because you’re not even awake yet, sleepyhead! You can barely figure out how to turn the alarm off, let alone win a debate with the other voice in your head.

Make all your decisions about working out before you go to sleep the night before. If it’s already 2am, and you know you need at least 6 hours to be functional, don’t kid yourself. You’re not going to the gym. You’ve already made the decision to stay up late instead of working out.

But if you went to bed plenty early and did decide to go to the gym, ignore the voice when the alarm goes off. The voice almost always wins if you engage it in a debate, so if you want to have any hope of getting to the gym, keep your mouth shut, turn off the alarm, and do whatever you have to do to get out the front door. Make it that far and you’re probably not going to turn back until you’ve finished your workout.

The one-sentence summary

“Decisiveness is a characteristic of high-performing men and women. Almost any decision is better than no decision at all.”  ~Brian Tracy

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

For most of my life, I assumed that I wasn’t practicing enough. And that eventually, with time and performance experience, the nerves would just go away.

But in the same way that “practice, practice, practice” wasn’t the answer, “perform, perform, perform” wasn’t the answer either. In fact, simply performing more, without the tools to facilitate more positive performance experiences, just led to more negative performance experiences!

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!).

If you’ve been wanting to perform more consistently and get more out of your daily practice, I’d love to share these research-based skills and strategies that can help you beat nerves and play more like yourself when it counts.

Click below to learn more about Beyond Practicing, and start enjoying more satisfying practice days that also transfer to the stage.


13 Responses

  1. This is one of my favorite “practice” posts Dr.Kageyama. I work in the school district and we have 2 weeks off for the holidays. This is the best time for me to get in a lot of practice time. However, I am a mom and a wife so practice time often gets pushed aside for some last minute gift and grocery shopping. I can’t be in the holiday mood without a clean house. So I keep my music and my instruments in the kitchen. When I feel I must practice, I take my flute out and have my music on the stand. Everything is ready to go so that at least I am inspired to practice when I am running the vacuum. Once I get started it is hard to stop. Practice is really the best part of my day eventhough I don’t practice everyday. Practice is also a good way to plan dinner. I prefer to cook something that is hearty but doesn’t require much attention on my practice days.Then I pull out the crock pot. Later today, I will be cleaning the upstairs so my gear will be with me. I am prepring for a jazz competition and a lot of what I practice is my improvisational skills and memorization so practice is a must if I want to be successful. Practice is not debateable, I must do it regardless of what the voice says.

  2. Thanks for this post. I find that intention is the key. If I’m intending to practice, rather than trying to fit it into my already overscheduled hectic day, it will more likely happen. Totally agree about scheduling as well, especially when practicing with bandmates. I’ve always had trouble practicing alone, starting at an early age learning Suzuki violin. But orchestra rehearsals that were scheduled always seemed to go smoother once I was physically there.

    1. Hi Tom,

      I like your point about how important intentions can be. In fact, we would probably benefit from intending things more often in other areas of our life; e.g. what kind of phone conversation do we intend to have with our mother-in-law? What kind of meeting do we intend to run? What kind of experience do we intend to have on the drive back from work?

  3. I must practice today which will take place while hubby is having a root canal. I hope he’s gone a long time so that I can practice a long time.

  4. While on Winter break, I decided that it will be imperative to practice in prepearation for a jazz competition which I probably mentioed before. Not only have I scheduled practice but I am set up so that I can get to my play-along CDs, sheet music and axe easily. If I have to look for anything, I won’t practice, so why wait to begin looking for my materials. I had my music opened to the pages I intended to practice. It was sitting on the stand. My playalongs were sitting next to the computer ready to plug in. So after doing my schuduled chores and reading all I had to do was do it. That is how lazy I am and laziness must be taken into consideration when planning to practice. When I go to teach flute lessons, the break time will be spent on technical issues I came across during my practicing. Mainly octave jumps that i want to improve and perfect and my tone quality,

  5. Yes, Dr. Kageyama, I do agree. So much to take into consideration when it comes to practice. Everyone has their own obstacles when it comes to scheduling practice time. I do not have a practice studio in my home which limits my practice time.Laziness, as I have mentioned makes it difficult to focus on the opportunity we call practice. Dinner time, laundry time, vacuuming and other tasks cannot be skipped because a messy house dulls my creativity. However, being a proud owner of a crock pot helps to free up some creative juices. You see, I am also a lazy chef. So having helpers like a crock pot or a diswasher…things that require practically, no attention from me. We must consider our short comings when it comes to practice time.

  6. I can relate to your martial artist, as I am usually intensely motivated. I have days, once every week or two, that are a lost cause due to medical issues. On these days, I cannot think and focus to my normal standard, and this makes practice and study very difficult. I can’t predict when these days will occur and up until now they have been road blocks and momentum killers. Extremely frustrating.

    Thinking about the intentional aspect you raise, and giving oneself permission, I have begun labeling some tasks in my to-do software as ‘fog work’. These are tasks that I can do in without concentrating; things that do not require precision. Now when I hit one of these bad days, I am prepared with tasks to work on, and I am able to count the day as productive and successful.

    Thank you for the perspective and inspiration!

  7. I love this post – and I agree completely. The days that you decide are going to be ‘days off’ are so much better than the days when you keep putting off practice and end up just not doing any.

    I’m not a morning person, I struggle to get up every day. But, practice I do in the morning is always better than practice later on, plus I feel good for having got it done early. Plus, I’m increasingly seeing it as an escape from things that are stressing me out at any particular time.

  8. Wow! Thank you so much. I am a musician who normally (almost every day) finds practice for four to six hours the most wonderful joyous thing in the world. However on days I just don’t want to play I try and force myself and most often end up with that guilt, wasted time doing nothing this and nothing that and not even enjoying my day. Ill spend the whole day in a state of mild anxiety irritability and depression (I suffer from severe so I say mild cause its just a grey cloud and not a black one) and it runs in my entire family. My dad never ever let’s himself take a day from his training (professional cyclist) and I see him suffer the same thing when he has an off day. Honestly I think you have just changed my life. I loved your use of “stick to your guns” makes it very easy to grasp!

    Thankyou thankyou thankyou!!

  9. Sir, just surfing by, totally will -o- the Wisp, and ended up on your post. I’m a Senior, and have been forcibly retired by a “challenging” body for the past 8 years. Seems each year that externally something new breaks down.
    As a Single Senior (66), days are pretty unstructured, other than to get up, eat, surf, garden in summer, hibernate in winter, and go to bed at night, to start over again the next day. Lately my GP has given me exercises to do for my “challenges” and being the “lazy” person, I have found it hard to structure some work ethic (which I was very good at when I worked for someone else) into my day, to even do 10 minutes straight. I have been told, and seen the reports from the specialists, that I will in all likelihood live another 15 to 20 years. So it is not like I don’t have something to work towards.
    In all honesty, I don’t see much difference between me and many low income retired people, who can’t do the “live Life to the fullest” on large pensions. Which is the majority of us. But this is the first time I can honestly say, I see a light on the horizon. Thank you for your post, and the people who have commented, adding more flesh to the bones. I have printed it out and put it on my wall, to dissect and grab as much from as I can. Time to get off my butt and moving.


    Schnee… “The Great Procrastinator”

  10. PS While I don’t play an instrument (bad eye hand co-ordination); I do paint and write when the muse kicks my butt or takes me by the scruff of the neck! In truth there is much that I could be doing, even in Winter, it is just lack of motivation. Self-motivation is not as easy as it seems. So just want you to know, how much your post is valued, and will be checking out your other posts.
    I came to your site via Vivien Shotwell’s Google+ page.

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