How to Tell When You’re Overwhelmed

How to Tell When You’re Overwhelmed

You’re here because the thought that you’re overwhelmed has crossed your mind. You feel the overwhelm slowly creeping in but somehow can’t acknowledge what’s truly going on. Between all that you’ve got going on at work and home, it’s not surprising that you have questions.

No one ever sets out to intentionally overextend themselves. And overwhelm is sneaky. In most cases, the physical signs alert you to the fact that something isn’t right. Because although your mental state is often the first clue, it’s also the most commonly ignored.

But physical symptoms are not as easily ignored. Maybe you just can’t seem to drag yourself out of bed in the morning. Or your ability to concentrate has taken a nose-dive.

And that nagging cold that just won’t go away? Could it be something more than just your kid who makes it his life’s mission to constantly sneeze in your face?

It’s one of those things where you’re fine one minute. But in the very next, you find yourself googling “how to tell when you’re overwhelmed.” And so, here you are.

You’re not alone. Overwhelm is real and can make life feel like a drag. But there are also real steps you can take to start feeling better.

This post may contain affiliate links. As an affiliates of Amazon, I may receive a commission at no extra cost if you purchase through a link. Please see my full disclosure for further information. I take no credit for the images appearing on this page. All images courtesy of Canva.

Overwhelm or Something Else?

Symptoms of overwhelm can mimic a variety of health conditions. If you’re consistently feeling down, depressed, or have had changes in sleep, appetite, or other areas of your life, it’s essential to see your primary care provider.

Although I am a nurse practitioner, I am not your nurse practitioner, and this post does not constitute medical advice. It is for educational and entertainment purposes only. You and your healthcare provider are the only ones who can collaborate to diagnose and treat underlying medical conditions.

Once you’ve ruled out medical issues, it’s time to take back your life and put a stop to the overwhelm!

Physical Signs That You’re Overwhelmed

Although mental or emotional signs of being overwhelmed often appear first, they can be the easiest to dismiss. The physical symptoms often cause you to stop and question what’s happening underneath all that unchecked anxiety and a general sense of crankiness.

Shortness of Breath

If you’re a runner or are active in other ways, you’re probably familiar with the heart racing, short-of-breath feeling you get when working out. But if you get these feelings outside the gym, it could be a sign that you’re overwhelmed.

If you have shortness of breath accompanied by dizziness, nausea, vomiting, or a sense of impending doom, please head to the emergency room ASAP!

But if you find yourself chronically short of breath and your heart and lungs are fine, it could be a sign that your body is chronically stressed. In other words, your brain is getting the message that danger is everywhere. And it’s trying to compensate by releasing chemicals that make you feel a certain way.

Our bodies have amazing coping mechanisms to balance in the short term. But these coping mechanisms have a shelf life. After they’ve expired, you can be left with long-term damage that’s difficult to reverse.

Fatigue

Are you having trouble shaking that “didn’t get enough sleep” feeling? It may have more to do with having too much on your plate than getting too little sleep at night.

Fatigue can permeate every area of your life, making all the things feel way more complicated than they have to be. It can be sneaky too. If you’re a high-achieving type-A person like me, you can fool yourself into thinking you’re simply not getting enough shut-eye.

But in reality, you’ve bitten off more than you can chew. And your brain can’t possibly fathom taking on anything else at this point.

Constantly Sick

Do you find yourself battling one cold after another? If so, it’s possible that you’re overwhelmed.

Our bodies are a fascinating combination of complex systems, all working together. When your brain is stressed, you feel the effects in your body as well.

As a form of overwhelm, stress sends chemical messages that alter how our bodies function. In this case, chronic stress impacts your body’s immune system. This results in frequent colds and other minor illnesses.

Although rarely life-threatening, frequent colds are annoying!

And even minor illnesses can mess with your concentration, mood, and motivation.

Mental and Emotional Signs that You’re Overwhelmed

It takes practice to identify overwhelm before it reaches the point where you have physical signs. This is especially true for high-achieving, type-A personalities because, just like Olivia Pope, we handle things.

We are driven and feel that our drive is the reason for our success. And sure, we feel overwhelmed much of the time, but where would we be without the overwhelm?

It’s almost as if we wear overwhelm like a badge of honor.

But what if I told you that overwhelm is stealing your joy? It’s clouding your vision and making you less effective than you could be.

Would it inspire you to get serious about recognizing overwhelm for its hazard?

Crankiness

Do you find yourself in a general state of crankiness much of the time? Almost as if you’re ready to go 9 rounds with anyone at any time?

If so, it’s entirely possible that you’re overwhelmed.

Irritability and mood swings can be your brain’s way of putting the brakes on your ever-growing list of obligations. Crankiness is also a subconscious way to keep people at arm’s length and guarantees they’re less likely to ask you for favors, thereby increasing your workload.

Generalized Anxiety

Do you feel nervous all the time? Maybe you’re overwhelmed. Is the word “relax” not even in your vocabulary? You’re overwhelmed.

You don’t have peace if you’re running here and there, trying to get things done. You don’t have the time or space to just be. Your brain gets in the habit of being in constant overdrive.

And because there’s so much to do, you get trapped in this negative cycle of overthinking. After a while, it’s tough to feel any joy because all you can think about is checking things off your list.

But the more you check off, the more you realize there is still left to do.

Overwhelm and anxiety feed off each other. This is especially true if you are a Type A personality. The fear of not getting something done, missing a deadline, or doing a task imperfectly drives you and is a big reason you’re overwhelmed.

You Can’t Stay Focused

It’s no wonder that it’s difficult to concentrate when overwhelm takes over. Overwhelm, mixed with a bit of anxiety, zaps your energy and makes focusing on anything other than your long list of obligations impossible.

To get even more done, you may also have started multitasking. According to multiple studies, multitasking is actually your brain quickly switching from one task to the next, a process that zaps your energy at a remarkable rate. Although multitasking seems efficient, your brain can’t focus on more than one thing at a time.

A tendency to multitask also means that you may tend to ignore the little things in life. You become so focused on becoming efficient that you forget to stop and simply enjoy the little things.

But the little things make life worth living, thus the reason anxiety, and even depression, eventually take over.

Now that we’ve explored both the mental and physical signs that you’re overwhelmed let’s talk about how you can start feeling better!

What To Do When You’re Overwhelmed

Although overwhelm is familiar, you don’t have to let it rule your life. You are in charge of your life.

Overwhelm becomes a mindset that clouds your vision and darkens your world. But if you take action, the sun will come out once again, and you can finally find peace.

Watch for Catastrophes

The language you use matters. It can either build you up or tear you down. Words like “always” and “never” make anything seem worse than it actually is.

And in those moments when you’re overwhelmed, look for ways to accurately describe what’s happening. For example, which of these two statements sounds more reasonable?

  1. “I’ve got so much going on today. I’m completely overwhelmed and have no idea how I will make it through the day.”
  2. “I’ve got 2 meetings at work today, and I have to finish that presentation by noon tomorrow.”

The second one sounds manageable, right? Describing precisely what needs to be done and when takes the panic and mystery out of overwhelm. Sometimes, the simple fear of the unknown adds an extra layer of negativity to your thinking. And by taking the time to lay out what’s bothering you, you’ll suddenly realize that it’s actually not as bad as you thought.

Stop Multitasking

Along with accurately describing why you’re overwhelmed comes a commitment to stop multitasking. Research shows that it’s not effective anyway, so what’s the point?

Take time to enjoy the small moments in life. Stop and enjoy a beautiful sunset. Laugh with your kids. Leave your phone inside and stretch out in your backyard, watching the clouds float by on a sunny day.

Multitasking re-enforces the idea that you have to be doing something every minute of every day. It leaves no time for living and loving life. And it’s fooling you into thinking that you’re making progress when all you’re actually doing is sucking out the joy and feeding anxiety.

Set Boundaries

It’s easy to feel like you’re overwhelmed if you’re saying “yes” to everyone but yourself. If you find that your people-pleasing tendencies are taking over your life, it’s time to set some boundaries.

I’m not saying you should never do anything you don’t want to do. But I am saying that there needs to be balance in life. And you need to be realistic about what you can actually get accomplished in a day.

A great place to start is by establishing priorities. What areas of life matter most to you, and how can you optimize those areas?

Whenever new opportunities come up, you can then match them against your priorities. If they don’t align, don’t feel bad about saying “no.” There’s somebody out there who would be thrilled with the opportunity that simply doesn’t feel right to you. And by saying “no,” you open a door for that person.

Pretty great, right?

Exercise

I have yet to find a self-improvement topic that doesn’t involve exercise in some way, shape, or form and this one is no different. When you’re feeling overwhelmed, stop and move your body. Take a walk. Go for a run. Grab your bike and take a ride.

Whatever it is, clearing your head with a little fresh air and movement does wonders for shaking out the cobwebs and anxiety related to overwhelm.

Exercise stimulates the release of feel-good hormones that immediately improve your mood and lessen anxiety. It’s an all-natural way to stop the hamster wheel of overthinking.

Meditation

If you’ve never tried meditation, now is your chance! Meditation teaches you the valuable skill of controlling your thoughts, especially important when overcoming overwhelm.

If you struggle with insomnia, meditation just might be the answer you’re looking for! The practice of meditation helps ground you into the here and near instead of the past or future. Sometimes overwhelm is more about the habit of worrying about the future. But by keeping yourself in the present, you can start enjoying life.

There are several apps to teach you the basics of meditation. Headspace is my favorite app. It has different meditation to help you with insomnia, stress, and even self-esteem.

You can also find meditations on YouTube. Give it a try! You might be surprised by how well it works for relieving overwhelm.

Choose Gratitude

Your brain is phenomenal at picking up patterns. And your subconscious is always looking for ways to help you out. What this means for you is that your brain will find what it thinks you want.

If you wake up telling yourself that today will be awful, your brain will find ways to support this thought. When you spill your coffee, your kids miss the bus, and you’re late for the meeting, the message that this day is terrible wins out.

But if you wake up telling yourself that today will be a good day, instead of being angry, you’ll be thankful that you spilled the coffee on your kitchen counter instead of on your brand new skirt. Or that you’re happy for a few extra minutes with your kids because you have to drive them to school when they missed the bus. You’ll even be thankful that you missed the small talk you hate so much at the beginning of the meeting.

You are in control of your thoughts. And since thoughts drive emotions, you also have the power to change how you feel. If you feed your brain negativity, you will feel negative. And if you fail to set boundaries and are constantly multitasking, you’ll feel like there simply isn’t enough time in the day for it all.

But if you decide that you’re in control of your life and your schedule, overwhelm will become a thing of the past. Start seeing the good and stop embracing the overwhelm.

Find Inspiration

There are some great resources out there on tackling various aspects of feeling overwhelmed. Here are a few of my favorites:

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Be Realistic

Although gratitude can take you a long way in life, being realistic can bring you the rest of the way. There honestly aren’t enough hours in the day to do it all.

It’s time to accept this truth and set your priorities. If something isn’t a priority, forget about it. Or at least re-schedule it to a more reasonable time.

It’s ok to let things go if they don’t fit into your priorities at this moment in time. There will always be things that were important to you at one time, but simply don’t make the cut anymore.

You’ve grown and evolved as a person, and it’s ok to let it go. You can always pick something up again later if your priorities shift.

The small, daily stress adds up quickly, and it’s simply not worth it if it doesn’t align with your major priorities.

It’s Your Turn

Everyone gets overwhelmed at times. But you can take steps to ditch the overwhelm and take control of your life.

Don’t get fooled into thinking that overwhelm is normal. It’s not. It will steal your peace, joy, and ability to be your best self.

Hopefully, this post has inspired you to find a new way. Fight the urge to give in to overwhelm. Set your priorities and weigh out your obligations. If something doesn’t align with your major priorities, ditch it.

And the next time you’re feeling overwhelmed, describe exactly what’s causing the overwhelm. Putting language to your feelings helps you realize that it’s not actually as bad as your brain is trying to make you think it is.

As always, please drop a comment below to tell me your thoughts on this post! How do you recognize when you’re overwhelmed? And what steps do you take to start feeling better?

If the post resonates with you, please share it with a friend or social media.

You may also enjoy the following posts:

Until next time, thanks for stopping by, and best wishes on your personal development journey!

The Ultimate Guide to Getting Your Kids to Practice Piano

The Ultimate Guide to Getting Your Kids to Practice Piano

You’ve signed your kids up for piano lessons. Everything was going smoothly in the beginning. Your kids were excited about starting, and getting your kids to practice piano was effortless.

But something shifted.

Suddenly you find yourself begging, bargaining, and pleading to get them to practice. Or yelling. And maybe the yelling is as mutual as the frustration surrounding the topic of practice.

What gives? Your kids were thrilled at the prospect of learning to play the piano. And you, being the well-informed and conscientious mom you are, were eagerly awaiting their transformation into brilliant, well-rounded tiny humans.

Was enrolling your kids in piano lessons a mistake? Maybe you’re questioning your parenting abilities and secretly fear their practice aversion is somehow your fault.

As a pianist and a mom, believe me when I say that getting kids to practice can be as much art as creating music. But you can do it! You can guide your kids into the opportunity of a lifetime WITHOUT tears and screaming.

And it all starts with understanding why your kids avoid piano practice.

This post may contain affiliate links, and as an affiliate of Amazon, I may receive a commission at no extra cost if you purchase through a link. Please see my full disclosure for further information. I take no credit for the photos appearing on this page. All photos courtesy of twinsterphoto and FamVeld from Getty Images via Canva.

Why is getting your kids to practice piano so difficult?

I will go out on a limb and say that most kids hate piano practice for two reasons. The first is that it can be tedious. For the most part, kids are constantly overstimulated. Flashing screens, bouncing cursors, and billions of on-demand videos seem way more exciting than a piano, a book, and a pencil.

I’m not here to deny the many benefits that come with being constantly keyed into the online world.

But I will point out that our attention span is now around 6 seconds. According to several sources, this is shorter than the attention span of a goldfish.

Maybe this article should instead be about teaching your pet fish to play the piano?

But in all seriousness, piano practice requires focus, which no longer comes naturally to most people. It’s instead something that must be trained.

The second reason kids hate practice is that they have no idea how to spend their practice time. Your kids know they need to practice because you and their teacher tell them to, but they don’t actually know how.

And because your kids don’t know how to practice, their piano practice time often becomes monotonous.

Practice: Stuck on Repeat

Between the boredom and uncertainty of what practice should entail, it’s no wonder piano practice gets such a bad rap. And it’s no wonder kids instead gravitate toward other activities and learn to dread practice time.

But at its core, music is about creativity. It’s about the expression of human emotion. And it’s about individuality.

Music is the exact opposite of boredom.

So how can you convince your kids that piano practice is a really fun and exciting way to spend their time?

We’ll get there, but first, let’s explore what practice is and what it is not.

Somewhere along the line, piano practice became synonymous with repetition. In other words, practice means you play something repeatedly until you can suddenly play it correctly. And then you come back the next day and simply repeat what you did yesterday all over again. You do this day after day until you go back to your lesson, at which point your teacher assigns new songs, and the cycle continues.

And so on and so forth until the end of time.

Seriously. How boring does that sound?

Repetition vs. Practice

On the surface, repeating something until it’s perfect seems to make sense. Isn’t that why they say, “practice makes perfect?”

But let me ask you something. Does simply repeating something mean you will automatically get better?

Let’s say I want to dunk like Michael Jordan. I decide to “practice” by making 500 shots. But by the end of my session, I’m still nowhere near his skill level. What gives?

Repetition does not guarantee improvement. Actual progress comes first from identifying exactly what you want to improve. You then must find a specific tactic to get better at that thing.

I realize that this may seem far into the weeds on a post about getting your kids to practice piano. But I think it’s important to understand both the barriers to and significance of practice.

At that point, you can help your kids find excitement and meaning in their practice sessions. And you can kiss the tantrums goodbye!

If you’ve fallen into the repetition as practice trap, please don’t feel bad about it! There are far fewer resources out there on effective practice than there are about playing an instrument.

Teachers everywhere expect students to practice and somehow assume students know what that means. I’ve been playing piano for nearly 30 years and will be the first to say that I associated repetition with practice for far too long.

I still fall into the repetition trap from time to time. But thanks to this post, you have the resources to help turn all that around for your kids!

A Controversial Practice Philosophy

This next section may seem contrary to everything I’ve said thus far, but it still deserves telling. Piano lessons are about introducing your kids to new skills and an outlet for their creativity.

The right kind of practice is essential for growth, but every kid is an individual. And chances are, your kids will not grow up to be concert pianists.

But could every kid who takes piano lessons foster a hobby they will enjoy for the rest of their lives? Absolutely.

The art of practice is valuable in and of itself. It’s an opportunity to teach your kids how to improve at something. It teaches them about persistence and creative problem-solving.

And these are lessons that are applicable beyond the keyboard.

Many piano teachers out there have mandatory practice requirements. And I agree that practice is vital for improving. But not every kid needs the same amount of practice to make improvements.

And depending upon the goals your kids have for themselves; their practice sessions may look different.

Let your kids explore piano in a way that excites them. Make practice something they look forward to instead of something they dread. Now let’s dive into getting your kids to practice piano!

Get Your Kids to Practice Piano by Setting Reasonable Goals

My very first recommendation for getting your kids to practice piano is to sit down with them and talk about practice goals. Their teacher may have a weekly practice expectation, but how do your kids feel about this requirement?

And how does this requirement fit into their current obligations?

Many piano teachers would love to think that kids devote themselves to the piano at the exclusion of all else. But this kind of thinking isn’t realistic in today’s world.

Kids are involved in many activities, and why shouldn’t they be? Life is about exploration and learning new things. The truth is that you can fit regular practice into any schedule, regardless of how busy that schedule is.

But everyone has to be on the same page about the goals your piano kid has for themself.

Start with the following questions to get the conversation started with your kids:

  • What other activities are you involved with, and how much time do you realistically have available for practice?
  • Does your teacher have a minimum practice requirement?
  • When is the best time to get your practice done?
  • What are the barriers you see to getting practice done daily?
  • And are there strategies you can use to overcome those barriers?

The keyword here is REASONABLE. There’s no room for guilt, and if you have 5 minutes a day for practice, it’s better than nothing!

Stick to a Consistent Daily Practice Time

Once you’ve had the practice discussion with your kids, it’s time to set a consistent daily practice time. Again, it doesn’t matter whether you’ve decided on 5 or 50 minutes of daily practice time; the key is consistency.

Consider whether your kids may benefit from multiple short practice sessions rather than one long one. Research shows that keeping sessions short promotes more effective learning. As an example, if your goal is 30 minutes a day, try to break it up into three 10-minute sessions.

Try to attach practice time to another established habit. An example of this might be sitting down at the piano immediately following their afterschool snack every day.

Some families find that practicing before school works better than after. Our family is not quite that evolved yet, but it’s something I’m considering for the future.

Again, the key is consistency. Your kids will take more away from multiple, short daily sessions than one long session once a week.

Help Your Kids Structure Their Practice Time

Now it’s time to get creative! If you take one thing from this post, I hope it’s that practice should be anything but dull repetition.

Have a conversation with your kids’ piano teacher about what should happen during practice. Get ideas for how you can help your kids spice up their practice time.

Send a notebook to lessons so their teacher can write down weekly practice goals.

Find out what drives your kids to learn the instrument. Are they really into pop music? Do they love classical? Or do they adore video game music?

Whatever your kids are into, I guarantee there’s piano music for it out there. Ask the teacher for recommendations on music that’s level appropriate and accessible.

Incorporate the music they love into their practice routine. Use it as a reward for getting through the stuff that’s important but not as fun.

Find out whether they can use apps or websites during practice time to beef up their musical knowledge.

I know this sounds like a fair amount of work but staying active in the process will help your kids have a better experience. It shows that you’re invested in their learning.

Get Your Kids to Practice Piano by Learning with Your Kids

And speaking of learning, have you considered taking piano lessons along with your kids? Sharing the experience of learning is a great way to bond with your kids.

It gives you more patience and empathy for your kids when you come home tired from a long day at work and aren’t necessarily enthused about practice either.

And it allows you to show your kids that you’re never too old to learn something new.

Whether you’re a total beginner or dabbled as a child, now is the best time to get back into it!

If you’re intrigued by taking lessons, make sure you check out my post about how to learn piano as an adult.

Reward Their Efforts

Help your kids feel good about their efforts by rewarding them for a job well done. Maybe it’s a small weekly reward for hitting their goal time. Or perhaps it’s a larger reward for mastering a particular piece.

Many parents find success with practice charts. I use an app to document practice and find it both motivating and rewarding.

Whatever the reward, it’s important to teach them the art of celebrating their wins.

Perhaps fidgets or stickers from Amazon will be enough to entice them?

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For information on the practice app that I love, check out this post.

Connect with Other Learners

Some of my most memorable musical experiences have come from performances with others. Music is not meant to be a solitary pursuit, so look for ways to help your kids get involved with other musical kids.

One of the major benefits of learning piano is countless opportunities to collaborate. From chamber music to choir to solo accompaniment, the possibilities are endless!

I even recently discovered how fun worship band playing could be.

Introducing your kids to the world of musical collaboration may be just the secret sauce you need to spark their learning!

Many teachers have performance requirements built into their studio policies and encourage collaboration with other kids.

And if your kids are shy about performing, a friend may be vital to helping them have positive performance experiences. It’s truly a win-win situation that will hopefully foster a lifetime of teamwork and collaboration skills applicable outside the realm of music.

Student/Teacher Fit

I’ve mentioned piano teachers here and there throughout this post, but if your kids are quite opposed to practice, it’s worth a conversation with their teacher.

There may be a mismatch between the teacher’s expectations for your kids and the expectations your kids have for themselves. Piano teachers have a reputation for being rigidly type A, and although not all teachers are that way, many are.

Personality clashes can result in and make lessons a drag for your kids. And I’m not saying lessons should be all rainbows and sunshine, but the mark of a good teacher is how your kid feels when they leave lessons for the day.

Do your kids feel inspired to reach new musical levels? Or are they guilt-ridden about not achieving some hypothetical practice requirement?

To minimize practice resistance and maximize learning goals, you must have a good fit between the teacher and the student. If your goal is to expose your kids to music and foster a love of music, it’s crucial that the teacher understands and supports these goals.

But if your kids have a more serious goal of achieving mastery of the instrument, you must find a teacher capable of guiding their journey.

Neither goal is right or wrong. And there are all kinds of teachers out there. Make sure you find one who fosters the type of learning most beneficial to your kids.

Don’t Sweat It

Although this has been a post all about the ins and outs of getting your kids to practice piano, don’t sweat it if none of the above advice works. All kids are individuals and take different things away from their learning experiences.

Will the teacher become frustrated if they have to guide your kids through something they should have practiced at home? Possibly.

But there’s no way of knowing the future impact continuing lessons will have on your kids. This is true whether or not they practice.

I’m a firm believer that even if your kids are not fond of practice, there’s value in the experience of taking lessons and learning something new. I don’t believe that kids should quit lessons because they don’t practice.

I believe that there is an opportunity to explore goals and have a conversation about the value of the experience.

And maybe your kids decide that they really hate the piano.

That’s ok too. Maybe you can use this opportunity to get them involved with a different instrument.

And maybe they will discover an instrument they are deeply passionate about, and you will never need to have the practice discussion ever again.

All this to say, never guilt yourself about your kids not putting in the practice time. There is a massive range of reasons why daily practice may be unrealistic. And it’s pointless to take a turn to negative town for things beyond your control.

Know that by enrolling your kids in lessons, you are opening them up to a world of new experiences and possibilities. And isn’t that, in and of itself, enough?

It’s Your Turn

I’d love to hear your thoughts on this post. What are the barriers you face to consistent practice? Are there ways you have found to spice up your kids’ practice time? And have you pursued piano lessons for yourself?

Whatever your feedback, I’d love to hear all about it!

More great piano inspiration is to come but, in the meantime, make sure you check out one of the following posts:

5 Simple Reasons You Should be Calling Yourself a Pianist

5 Simple Reasons You Should be Calling Yourself a Pianist

“At what point do you get to be called a pianist?”

I recently stumbled across this hotly debated topic in a Facebook group for adults learning to play the piano. And the feedback by fellow adult learners were more than a little shocking.

Responses ranged from anyone who can find middle C to only those who accept money for their skills. Many replies fell somewhere in the “you can only consider yourself a pianist when you can play the 3rd Rachmaninoff concerto blindfolded and handcuffed in front of a live studio audience” camp.

People argued. Tempers flared.

Responses appeared in ALL CAPS. Exclamation marks peppered the entire exchange.

Who knew that such a seemingly humdrum question would result in an outright clash of egos?

And more importantly, what does any of this have to do with you?

This post may contain affiliate links, and as an affiliate of Amazon, I may receive a commission at no extra cost if you purchase through a link. Please see my full disclosure for further information. I take no credit for the photos appearing on this page. All photos courtesy of pixelshot, Sbringser, and Negative Space via Canva.

Why You Should Care About This Definition

A definition sets you apart. It tells those around you that you’re serious about what you do. And it dramatically increases your success rate.

How you think about yourself changes the actions you take. If you see yourself a certain way, taking the steps necessary to develop into that person becomes more effortless according to James Clear, author of the phenomenal book Atomic Habits.

As an example, let’s explore getting into shape. There are two ways you can think about getting more exercise.

The first involves focusing only on all the work to become more physically fit. You could spend your time thinking about all those early morning workouts. And all the time it will take you to get back into shape. After a while, it becomes easier and easier to sleep in rather than hit the gym.

The alternative is to think of yourself as an athlete. Does an athlete skip their workouts because they had one too many the night before? Hardly. Does an athlete avoid the gym because it’s too cold outside? Nope.

Do you see how establishing an identity rather than focusing on the action steps themselves sets you up for success? Decisions become a no-brainer.

And you quickly start seeing the results of all those decisions you’ve made add up. Pretty soon, you’re much closer to your goals than ever before.

If you’re looking for more identity-based habit change inspiration, make sure you check out Atomic Habits by James Clear.

Pianist vs. Piano Player

You’re reading this because you’re serious about the piano. But a tiny part of you worries that you’ll never be good enough to call yourself a pianist. You fear that because you’re not into classical and don’t play for money that you don’t have the right to label yourself a “pianist.”

I call bullsh*t.

You’re a pianist. It doesn’t matter how long you’ve been playing. Or whether you only sit down to plunk away at show tunes.

Pianists come from all genres and levels. The one constant is how you see yourself.

And if piano brings you joy, you should be calling yourself a pianist. Not a piano player. Or someone who plays the piano.

You’re a pianist.

But if you’re still stuck on the words of those piano trolls who insist that you can only call yourself a pianist if you memorize ALL your music, it’s ok. I’ve got you.

Trolls are loud, but the loudest are usually the ones doing the least amount of work. And trolls thrive on criticizing others.

But you don’t have to be on the receiving end of that criticism. You know the truth and, thanks to this article, have five reasons to be calling yourself a pianist.

1) You Should be Calling Yourself a Pianist Because You’re Passionate

“The important thing is to feel your music, really feel it and believe it.”

Ray Charles

Do you find yourself thinking about the piano, even when you’re away from it? Does something about playing the piano feel right even when it’s hard? As if you were always meant to do it?

Does playing the piano give you a deep sense of fulfillment?

If you can answer “yes” to the above questions, you should call yourself a pianist.

Passion means losing track of time when you’re doing what you love. It means daydreaming. And it means ignoring the naysayers because there’s nothing that can replace the feeling you get from playing the piano.

2) You Love Practicing

Do you look forward to that magical time of the day when you are free to play whatever you want? Sure, you have a few goals but for the most part, do you long just to play?

If so, you should be calling yourself a pianist.

It doesn’t matter what you’re practicing. It could be scales, pop, or movie scores. Maybe you love to play songs by ear. If you can’t wait to sit down and get a piece of music under your fingers, you’re a pianist.

3) You Watch YouTube Videos About Playing Piano

A true sign of passion is your YouTube history. Does yours reflect a watch list of piano videos? Maybe it’s tutorials on classical technique. Or outstanding performances by world-class pianists.

Maybe you’re trying to understand music theory, and your watch list consists of minor chords or the circle of fifths.

If so, then you should be calling yourself a pianist.

4) You’re Getting Better Every Day

Regardless of how yesterday’s practice session went, do you constantly aspire for more? Do you start every day by thinking about how you can improve, even by 1%?

You’re a pianist!

And between the practice and all those YouTube videos, you are well on your way to massive improvements!

5) You Should Be Calling Yourself a Pianist Because You Love the Piano!

“When you play, never mind who listens to you.”

Robert Schumann

Can’t stop talking about playing the piano? Maybe you’ve just written an entire blog post about one comment in a piano-related Facebook group. Or you can’t wait to apply the latest self-improvement book you’ve read to the topic of playing the piano.

If any of this applies to you, you should be calling yourself a pianist!

I hope you’ve caught on to one simple theme by this point. A theme that excludes the opinions of others.

The theme is that calling yourself a pianist is NOT about any objective measure of your skill. It’s not about your skill level compared to anyone else around you.

Calling yourself a pianist is about your love for the instrument. It’s about appreciating the music of others. Getting goosebumps when you hear that piece you love.

It’s about feeling a deeply rooted passion for the instrument. And a constant desire to take your artistry to a deeper level. It’s about never giving up, even when it seems like you’ll never master that new technique.

Forget about all those nasty internet piano trolls. Isn’t it about time for you to write your own story?

It’s Your Turn to Start Calling Yourself a Pianist

Pianists exist in all genres.

If piano brings you joy, start calling yourself a pianist.

Can’t wait to get home so you can try out that new practice technique you saw on YouTube? Start calling yourself a pianist.

And if you can’t imagine your life without the instrument, start calling yourself a pianist!

Do you love playing pop tunes? You’re a pianist. Maybe jazz is your jam. You’re a pianist. Or perhaps you love playing worship music at church. It’s time to start calling yourself a pianist. Or organist (as applicable).

Stop letting others dictate how you see yourself. Let’s you and I make a pact. We are no longer falling into the comparison trap from here on out. We’re not giving in to the myth that we need permission from anyone else. And we’re not letting those piano trolls win!

Being a pianist is something that comes from within. It’s not a label anyone else can give you. And if you’re looking for more piano inspiration, make sure you check out the following posts:

As always, don’t forget to leave a comment below! I’d love to hear your thoughts on the post. 🙂

5 Simple Tips to Help You Be More Productive

5 Simple Tips to Help You Be More Productive

How’s life going for you? Is it everything you ever thought? Or are you feeling trapped on a hamster wheel of never-ending obligations that suck up all your emotional energy?

Over the past few years, I’ve felt stuck. A constant sense that I’m not getting enough done follows me everywhere.

I remember a time when I didn’t feel this way. Work stayed at work, and my home life was blissful.

But then I decided to go back to school.

This post may contain affiliate links, and as an affiliate of Amazon, I may receive a commission at no extra cost to you if you purchase through a link. Please see my full disclosure for further information.

A Downward Spiral into Negativity

From that moment on, I constantly felt the need to be more productive. If I wasn’t checking off a box every second of the day, I was indeed behind at work, home, school, or maybe all 3.

Deep down inside, I didn’t believe that I could successfully navigate all these worlds. That it was ridiculous even to try.

The self-doubt eventually spiraled into an all-consuming cloud of negativity. I became obsessed with wondering whether there was enough time in the day to do all the things.

Instead of spending my time actually being productive, I began obsessing about time. I felt guilty about anything and everything because somehow, nothing felt enough.

And I was always making wrong choices with how I spent my time. Or so it seemed at the time. At work, I was thinking about how little time I was spending with my kids. And at home, I fixated on the low probability of finishing the mountain of homework always waiting for me.

After graduation, I thought things would get better. I thought that I would suddenly feel normal again.

Nope. Those stubbornly obsessive negative thoughts continued to plague my every waking moment.

After a great deal of reflection, I finally made a decision. My happiness and inner peace depended upon shattering the negativity I had built around time and productivity. It was time to embrace a new perspective on how to be more productive!

If any of this resonates with you, keep reading because I promise to bring you a few unique solutions to the age-old problem of getting more done in less time!

1. Cut the Crap to Be More Productive

What do you actually want to accomplish in life? It’s easy to get caught in a web of “busy.” But “busy” is a very non-specific way to quantify your time. And without a sense of direction, you end up wandering the vast wasteland of coulda, woulda, shoulda.

Unfortunately, there are very dark forces at work in your life. And you may or may not even be fully aware of these forces. In her book called How to Get Sh*t Done, Erin Falconer describes some of the invisible constraints holding you back:

  • Women feel a constant need to prove themselves.
  • Unspoken work expectations mean women are saddled with more responsibility (the type that no one else in the office wants!) that will mean neither increased status nor pay.
  • After putting in a full day at work, women come home just to put in more work.
  • People-pleasing tendencies increase involvement in activities you may not otherwise choose for yourself.
  • The joy-sucking power of “should” is constantly playing over and over in your head.

The first step is always awareness. Falconer does an outstanding job of shedding light on everything that’s cluttering up your life.

And by doing so, you can start to abandon everyone else’s expectations in favor of your version of productivity.

Image courtesy of Namara Creative Studio via Canva

2. Craft Your Unique Version of Productivity

After you strip away the busyness, what’s left? Who are you underneath all those obligations? Are you someone who thrives among people? Or do you prefer a quiet spot to complete your work?

What makes you feel alive inside? And what makes you want to poke your eye out with a pencil?

It’s shocking how little we often know about ourselves simply because we haven’t taken the time. Also shocking is the impact society and those around us have on our aspirations. But when you strip everything away, what you have left is the freedom to make decisions based on you. Not society. And not everyone else in your life.

But you.

Falconer guides you through the process of getting down to you in a seamless and thought-provoking way. If that all sounds intriguing, make sure to check out her book.

3. Comparison Isn’t Always a Dirty Word

Our culture is all about comparison. It starts in grade school when you learn the concept of grades. And it follows you through middle and high school with sports tryouts. Thanks to social media, comparison continues to follow you well into adulthood.

But comparison in and of itself is not necessarily a bad thing, and you can use it as a force for good!

Dr. Benjamin Hardy is an organizational psychologist with fascinating advice on flipping the negative to the positive. I recently discovered his work on the School of Greatness podcast and was immediately inspired.

Dr. Hardy suggests that it’s our comparison to others that results in negative thought patterns. As an example, you see a fellow mom posting flawless pics of her family on social media. Their beaming smiles are brilliantly complemented by perfectly coordinated outfits and a gorgeous fall scene.

Upon seeing the pics, you take a turn to negative town. After all, your last family picture was taken 7 years ago. Before your kids were born.

And you immediately feel like a #momfail.

The truth is, you feel like a failure because you’re making an impossible comparison. You have no idea what else is going on in that woman’s life. We are all fighting battles that we share with only a select few.

And you have overcome some pretty tough stuff in your life as well. Therefore, the only way you can feel accomplished is to compare the woman you were with the woman you are right now.

I guarantee that you will immediately feel accomplished!

So the next time you feel compelled to make a comparison, make sure it’s between the current and past versions of yourself. Because at the end of the day, the only person over whom you have control is yourself.

If you’re curious about Dr. Hardy’s work, check out one of his books:

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4. Make a Done for Today List

Have you ever actually finished everything on your “to-do” list? I’d be lying if I said “yes” to that one. Although I always think seeing things crossed off my list will feel satisfying, it somehow never does. Instead, I constantly focus on everything that remains unchecked.

But here’s a new take on an old and tired concept. I recently heard this advice from an interview with Greg McKeown on the Science of Success podcast.

At the beginning of the day, figure out 3 things that, once complete, will also complete your day. Once those 3 things are done, give yourself the freedom to relish in accomplishment.

Reward yourself! Don’t try to use the extra time to sneak in more stuff. Take some time for yourself. Do something that fills your cup. Or do something that lights you up inside.

But most of all, enjoy the feeling of DONE.

As a type-A achiever, I never feel “done” with tasks in my day. And I think this leads to burnout because nothing ever feels good enough. I’m always trying to check a box.

So after hearing this particular tip, I’ve committed to being DONE every day. Regardless of whatever else is on my list, I’ve started celebrating my accomplishments and not only feel more peaceful but also 10x more productive.

5. A Tale of Two Teams

In the podcast, Greg McKeown goes on to tell the gripping tale of two teams racing against the elements to be the first to reach the South Pole.

Each team had opposing views on how to emerge victoriously. And their vastly different approaches made all the difference between victory and death.

The first team was British. Their leader pushed the team to their very limits whenever the weather was tolerable. On days when the weather was inclement, they camped out and weathered the storm.

The second team was Norwegian. Their leader determined that the best approach would be to advance 15 miles each day. Come fair weather or storm; they would only travel 15 miles.

Guess which team made it to the South Pole first? I’ll give you a hint … slow and steady wins the race.

The Norwegians made it to their goal an entire month before the British. And not only did they win, but they lived to tell the tale. Unfortunately, the same can’t be said of the British team.

Defining Your Daily Minimum to Be More Productive

Image courtesy of Netfalls via Canva

Everyone has a daily threshold for productivity, and there’s only so much you can accomplish in 24 hours. The Norwegian team dramatically highlighted this reality by claiming the victory. And the British team just as dramatically highlighted it through their ultimate demise.

You must set clear boundaries for yourself. Or you, too, will become overwhelmed and burned out.

McKeown suggests setting daily minimum goals for yourself. Figure out how to make this goal effortless. Making it effortless helps you achieve the goal and will leave you wanting more.

As an example, I’ve been trying to publish blog posts on a more consistent basis. But I have a mental block about time. My perception is that it takes time I currently don’t have.

After hearing McKeown’s advice, I decided to set a daily 30-minute writing goal. I have found that I no longer try to procrastinate my writing because 30 minutes feels very attainable.

And once those 30 minutes are up, I stop. I don’t force myself to keep going even if I’m in the middle of writing flow. Stopping when I’m in flow is crucial because I know when I begin again tomorrow, I will be excited to get started.

One of the worst things as a writer is a block, and stopping when I’m mid-paragraph, or even mid-sentence ensures I have something to pick up the following day.

Taking small, daily steps towards your goals increases your odds of success. Find ways to make the process enjoyable, and you’ve suddenly become dramatically more productive.

It’s Your Turn to Be More Productive

You define productivity. And with your unique definition comes freedom. The freedom to say “yes” to anything that feels aligned and “no” to everything else.

Narrow down your big goals to 3 or less at any given time. Go all-in on those goals. And when starting a goal, stop asking “how.” Dr. Hardy explains that “how” is a word that causes procrastination and overwhelm. It immediately adds an element of impossibility to the equation.

You instead need to ask “who.” Who can help you achieve your goal more quickly? Do you need a coach? Or maybe you need a course designed by an expert in the field. Making investments in someone who is already skilled helps you achieve your goals infinitely faster.

As important as “who” is the concept of effortlessness. Once your goal has been defined, how can you make it as easy as possible? Greg McKeown offers brilliant advice on finding joy while making goals feel effortless. Sadly, the perception of effort has held me back personally in all areas of my life. I, therefore, adore his philosophy on productivity!

And remember that slow and steady wins every time. There’s simply no need to make things overly complicated or overwhelming. I would even suggest that if you feel overwhelmed, you need to take a step back. Figure out your priorities. And cut everything that doesn’t make the grade.

Find the person who can help you. And make it effortless.

Additional Resources

If you’re looking for even more resources, make sure you check out any of the following books:

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And make sure to check out the following posts for even more great personal development!

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Easy Brain Hacks to Upgrade Your Piano Playing

Easy Brain Hacks to Upgrade Your Piano Playing

Do you ever feel stuck in your piano playing? You feel as if you put in the practice time but just aren’t making the progress you’d like.

Or maybe you do feel like you’re making huge strides in your playing but want to take things to the next level.

As a lifelong pianist, I’m always looking for that slight edge to take my skills to the next level. And I’m ecstatic to present you with a few easy brain hacks to upgrade your piano playing!

This post may contain affiliate links, and as affiliates of SkillShare and Amazon, I may receive a commission at no extra cost to you if you purchase through a link. Please see my full disclosure for further information. All images on this page courtesy of Canva.

Background on Brain Hacks to Upgrade Your Piano Playing

I’ve written a bit about my academic background in other posts but will mention it again for readers new to the blog. My first degree was in music, but I have since obtained a doctorate in nursing practice.

This means that I LOVE to research and pass along credible information to my readers, especially as it pertains to the science of playing the piano. In other words, I am constantly looking for the crossroads between art and science.

And because there’s an absurd amount of inaccurate information out there, my goal is always to cut through the crap to present you with only the truly useful stuff.

The Book

With all that being said, I recently stumbled across a fantastic book written by a development molecular biologist named John Medina. His mission in writing the book is to bring forth simplified research findings of how the brain works to the general public.

The book is called Brain Rules: 12 Principles for Surviving and Thriving at Work, Home and School. And although the book is not written specifically for pianists, I feel it is both relevant and crucial information to anyone interested in upgrading their piano skills.

The Research

For me, one of the very first things that struck a chord about the book is Medina’s equal attention to quality. All research he presents must first be published in a peer-reviewed journal. This means that it must pass an extremely rigorous process to make sure the information is scientifically accurate.

Medina then requires the research to be repeated, meaning it wasn’t simply some type of fluke. He then takes it further by boiling the research down to information that anyone can understand.

As someone who has read countless peer-reviewed articles, believe me when I say that researchers don’t write for clarity! Deciphering this type of writing is an art in itself. And so, I appreciate Medina’s mission to present high-level research to anyone in plain English with a side of humor.

The Brain

This sounds crazy, but despite massive research advances over the past century or so, we still understand little about the brain’s inner workings.

To put it into perspective, Medina makes this comment, “In truth, if we ever fully understood how the human brain knew how to pick up a glass of water, it would represent a major achievement.”

Take a minute to process that statement. We still don’t even understand the fundamental task of how the brain takes us from thirst to drinking. Mind-blowing, isn’t it?

And if we don’t understand something as simple as picking up a glass, we are lightyears from a solid understanding of something as complex as playing the piano.

Although I don’t promise a complete understanding of the complex interplay between cognition, memory, muscle, and emotion that occurs when playing piano, my goal is to present a few of my aha moments from the book.

And as the title suggests, my goal is to present brain hacks to upgrade your piano playing. But keep in mind that Medina’s brain rules apply to life in general.

So take this gift of knowledge and apply it liberally, both at and away from the keyboard. And if you’re thirsting for more, make sure you pick up the book for yourself. I promise that it’s both exciting and informative, and you will come away with tips to improve your life and relationships.

And so, without further ado, let’s dig into brain hacks to upgrade your piano playing!

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Brain Hacks to Improve Your Piano Playing: Exercise is Key

I promise to come back around to the piano in a minute but first, let me take you on a detour with my alter ego in the healthcare field. My career in healthcare started in the nursing home. And to this day, my practice continues to be based in this setting.

What this means for you is that I have extensive experience working with a population heavily impacted by cognitive decline. So much so that up until a few years ago, I never realized the significant bias I had developed by my work in the nursing home.

You may be asking yourself what cognitive decline has to do with playing the piano. My response to you would be that it has everything to do with it. Playing the piano begins and ends with cognition.

And by understanding the factors that impact healthy cognition, you can understand how to become a better pianist.

My Anecdotal Evidence

Until a few years ago, my only frame of reference for people older than 80 had been exceptionally frail people who seemed to show a steady pattern of physical and mental decline.

And so, imagine my surprise when I began my outpatient clinical rotation and was suddenly introduced to a whole new world of older patients. These were patients well into their 80s and 90s who continued to lead full and vibrant lives. They were driving, working, and even functioning as (gasp!) organists for large congregations.

I distinctly remember almost falling off my chair when one particularly delightful 90 something-year-old told me that he continued to mow his own 1+ acre lawn. With a push mower.

Mind. Blown.

This was the moment when my curiosity around the distinctly different outcomes in aging was first sparked. It left me questioning whether there are distinct actions people can either take or avoid to preserve cognition over time.

And although countless factors ultimately contribute to cognitive function over time, something deep inside whispered that this 90-something push mowing his lawn was on to something.

The Research

It turns out that my hunch was correct. According to Medina, “A lifetime of exercise can result in a sometimes astonishing elevation in cognitive performance, compared with those who are sedentary.”

And he goes on to describe research-proven time and again that points to an improvement in areas including long-term memory, attention, problem-solving, and even fluid intelligence in people who consistently exercise.

If you’re thinking those skills are suspiciously similar to those needed for playing piano, then you too are on to something!

You may be asking yourself what this means if you haven’t exercised regularly up to this point in your life. Hang on because I’ve got some great news for you!

As a whole, research supports the idea that even if you haven’t been a regular exerciser in your life, it’s never too late to start. And bumps in cognition come with even relatively mild exercise regimens.

Exercise has proven to preserve cognition over time, and there is also research to support its effectiveness in treating anxiety and depression.

I’m not sure about you, but this might be one of my favorite brain hacks to improve your piano playing!

Brain Hacks to Improve Your Piano Playing: Make it Exciting!

Would it surprise you to learn that our brain ignores boring things? And yet, how much attention do we give to making our learning experiences, including piano practice, interesting?

Zero.

Up until recently, I’ve had a very dull approach to practice. My practice sessions start with a scale warm-up or two, move on to some technical practice, and finish with one or two repertoire pieces.

Repetition has historically been at the core of what I do in the practice room. And I suspect many (if not most!) pianists have been conditioned to take the same humdrum approach to their practice.

It does leave you wondering whether all this boring practice does anything to advance your skills.

The Research

The short answer is no. According to Medina, “The more attention the brain pays to a given stimulus, the more elaborately the information will be encoded – and retained.” In other words, “Better attention always equals better learning.”

Not only does improved attention translate to better retention, but our attention spans have a very short expiration date. As a general rule of thumb, sustained attention is only maintained for about 10 minutes before our mind starts wandering.

Given that my practice sessions typically last around 30 minutes, how much am I actually retaining? Most importantly, how can I improve retention to make the most of my practice time?

Improve Retention With Short Practice Segments

My first thought comes straight from Medina’s lecture model as described in the book. Given our short attention span, chunk material into 10-minute sections.

Spend the first minute on a broad concept and the next nine looping in details related to the larger one. Once the 10 minutes are up, start with another broad concept.

For example, spend 10 minutes on a very specific task, such as improving rhythm in section A rather than attempting to improve all aspects of an entire piece over that same time frame. And once the 10 minutes are up, move on to the next clear-cut practice task.

Incorporate Emotion Into Practice

Any time you can incorporate emotion into learning, retention will be enhanced. To demonstrate this phenomenon, think back to a song that holds special meaning for you.

I’m willing to bet that every time you hear that song, you’re flooded with a very specific emotion. Whether it’s your wedding song or a break-up anthem, you probably go right back to a distinct time in your life whenever you hear it.

My suggestion for you is to attach emotion to your playing. Hone in on a unique feeling with every section. And get creative with this. Don’t limit yourself to happy, sad, or mad.

Try incorporating euphoria, despair, and angst into your playing. Maybe spend time differentiating between just how different you can make “boredom” and “apathy” sound.

Find the Meaning

Our brains love patterns. And any time you can make a connection between new and previously learned information, retention becomes both more accessible and potent.

My previous post lists a couple of resources for creating meaning in playing the piano. One involves creating a visual map of a piece, and the other consists of brushing up on music theory. Both are fantastic ways to transform tiny figures on a page into a compelling musical performance.

Check out the post here.

Other Thoughts on Brain Hacks to Improve Your Piano Playing

It’s difficult to articulate all the valuable information contained within this one book. But if there’s one thing to take away, it would be that our brains are designed to solve problems by exploring.

In the (admittedly somewhat morbid) words of my favorite Downton character, Violet Crawley, “All life is a series of problems which we must try and solve, first one and then the next and then the next until at last, we die.”

Our brains have been helping us navigate complex problems for centuries. We learn by doing. And by exploring.

So I would encourage you to keep trying. Keep searching for ways to improve. Look for unconventional ways to improve your piano practice. Experiment. Play what you love. Always be on the lookout for opportunities to be creative.

If you’re a classical pianist, try jazz. Or improvisation. You could even try your hand at composition.

And get some sleep! Medina has an entire chapter devoted to the massive impact sleep has on learning.

Most importantly, you can conveniently get your copy of Brain Rules by clicking the picture below.

It’s Your Turn

I hope you have found a few brain hacks to upgrade your piano playing after reading this post! If you’re looking for more inspiration and piano playing resources, make sure to check out my previous posts:

And that’s it for this week. As always, I wish you all the best in the practice room and beyond!

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5 Mindset Secrets to Boosting Your Piano Playing Confidence

5 Mindset Secrets to Boosting Your Piano Playing Confidence

“We like to think of our champions and idols as superheroes who were born different from us. We don’t like to think of them as relatively ordinary people who made themselves extraordinary.”

Carol Dweck

Learning to play the piano can be intimidating. After all, there are thousands of talented pianists showcasing their skills on YouTube, TikTok, and Facebook. Many of them have studied with the best teachers. And they’ve performed on the best pianos on the biggest stages around the world.

Watching these performances can lull you into thinking these pianists were simply born talented. It can seem as if you were not born with the same abilities that they were.

In thinking back to my days studying piano in college, I firmly believed that talent won out. I was convinced that some people are born more talented than others. At that time, I also thought that there was a limit to my improvements. In other words, I completely discounted my abilities to improve through hard work.

All of these beliefs chipped away at my self-confidence and significantly worsened my existing performance anxiety. Instead of watching other pianists with the intent of learning how to improve my skills, I chose to feel intimidated. Ultimately, this led to less practice time and more shaky performances than I’d like to admit.

But deep down, I love the instrument! I knew I’d never be able to walk away from it and began searching for ways to improve my piano playing confidence.

And I’m happy to report that I’ve found an inspirational resource that has revolutionized my thoughts on talent. It’s a book called Mindset written by Carol Dweck, and it’s a must-read for anyone who has ever desired improvement in their life.

This post may contain affiliate links, and as an affiliate of Amazon, I may receive a commission at no extra cost to you if you purchase through a link. Please see my full disclosure for further information.

Mindset

“The passion for stretching yourself and sticking to it, even (or especially) when it’s not going well, is the hallmark of the growth mindset. This is the mindset that allows people to thrive during some of the most challenging times of their lives.”

Carol Dweck

It’s funny that the most significant in my search for piano playing confidence have, for the most part, occurred away from the keyboard. But perhaps this only drives home the point that mindset matters more than I ever imagined it would.

Carol Dweck, a psychologist at Stanford University, has spent her career researching mindset. Dweck asserts that ultimately, “the view you adopt for yourself profoundly affects the way you live your life.”

She spends the remainder of the book detailing real-life examples of two opposing mindsets. One is the fixed mindset, and the other is the growth mindset.

If these are entirely new terms to you, don’t worry! Before reading the book, they were also foreign to me but are relatively intuitive when you understand the basics. Dweck describes the fixed mindset as “an urgency to prove yourself over and over.” It’s the belief that your intelligence, abilities, and personality are fixed and unable to be altered. I would refer you to the introduction for more on the fixed mindset.

On the other hand, the growth mindset is a belief that you are capable of change. Although the shift often occurs due to effort, hard work ignites a passion for learning. In the growth mindset, “failure is about not growing. Not reaching for the things you value. It means you’re not fulfilling your potential.”

Now that you have a basic understanding of the two mindsets, let’s explore how to improve your piano playing confidence dramatically!

1. Play to Learn

“Becoming is better than being.”

Carol Dweck

Imagine for a moment that you are preparing to give a recital. You’ve been working on the repertoire for months and feel prepared but struggle with performance anxiety. You’re not sure how you’ll get through it without either throwing up or running off stage mid-recital.

Luckily, your teacher is a wise woman who always knows exactly what to say. She tells you to consider each of the following statements carefully and adopt one.

“Everything comes down to this one performance. I can’t miss a single note, or I’ll be found out as the imposter I am. I’ve got to prove my talent for playing because if I screw this up, I lose my right even to call myself a pianist.”

“I’m nervous about performing but am confident in all the work I’ve put in. This is an incredible opportunity to practice the art of performance, and I’m going to learn everything I can. Even if I miss notes or completely screw something up, I will come away with valuable information I wouldn’t otherwise learn.”

Now I ask you, which mindset would you rather adopt going into that recital?

Even if you’re not preparing for a recital, start making your piano practice about learning. Make it about becoming 1% better than you were yesterday, and you’ll quickly see your piano playing confidence go through the roof!

2. Focus on Yourself

We live in the best and the worst of times for improving your piano skills. Best in that we have unprecedented access to music and recordings unlike any in history. Worst in that, all these performances can create a tendency to compare ourselves to others.

And comparison can easily transition to feelings of demotivation and inferiority.

All those videos may cause you to question whether you’re wasting your time. You may feel like you’ll never be as good as insert name here, so what’s the point?

The point is that insert name here has spent thousands of hours practicing to get where they are today. They’ve put in the time and energy required to pull off that Rachmaninoff concerto successfully.

And you can either use your energy to feel down on yourself or to figure out to improve your skills. Stop making comparisons because it’s never fair to yourself.

Instead of comparing, shift your mindset to one of growth. And keep records of your progress so you can look back and realize just how massive your growth has been. There’s nothing that boosts my piano playing confidence quite like a look back at where I’ve been and where I am currently.

Don’t have a microphone yet? Check out this microphone for easy, no fuss recording!

3. Challenge as Opportunity to Skyrocket Your Piano Playing Confidence

“No matter what your current ability is, effort is what ignites that ability and turns it into accomplishment.”

Carol Dweck

My third mindset secret for improving piano playing confidence goes hand-in-hand with the second. It involves seeing challenge as an opportunity rather than as a roadblock.

Learning to play the piano is fascinating in that there’s always something to improve upon. I would argue that it’s impossible to learn all the repertoire out there. And there will always be nuances that are more difficult than others.

As an example, memorization has always been tricky for me. And I could choose to forget about memorizing as no one is forcing me to do it. But I love the challenge of continuing to learn a skill that doesn’t come naturally to me.

And as a result, I have found that memorizing is now easier than it ever used to be. It’s also become way more fun than I remember it being in my college days! I love taking a piece from sight-reading to memorization because I know how hard I have to work to make it happen.

And it makes the feeling of accomplishment that much sweeter!

I encourage you to start seeing the opportunity in the challenge instead of writing anything off as impossible. If nothing else, I hope you’ll understand the personal enjoyment that comes from doing something you once thought impossible!

4. Identify Your Alter Ego

Even the most positive thinkers among us have an alter ego. This alter ego loves to remind us of our limitations and past failures. It delights in cautioning us from taking chances to avoid embarrassment.

And if you think about it, the negative alter ego often aligns closely with characteristics of a fixed mindset. Although it hides under the guise of protecting you from the unknown, it only serves to hold you back from fantastic new opportunities. Or in the case of the piano, it feeds into the energy of low self-confidence, performance anxiety, and imposter syndrome.

And identifying this negative voice can be tricky!

But in her book, Dweck gives incredibly useful advice for managing these mindsets. She recommends clearly identifying your alter ego, going so far as to name it. By doing so, you can clearly distinguish between the two mindsets and begin to identify triggers for a fixed mindset clearly.

In time, you can start shutting down those negative thoughts before they’ve had a chance to take root. And with a firm grasp on growth mindset, I’m positive you’ll see your piano playing confidence go through the roof!

5. Look for Opportunity to Improve Character and Your Piano Playing Confidence

“Effort is one of those things that gives meaning to life. Effort means you care about something, that something is important to you, and you are willing to work for it.”

Carol Dweck

If there’s anything I’ve learned from life thus far, it’s that anything worth having takes effort. And nothing I’ve gotten easily has been of much value.

So it is with piano.

I would be lying if I said that I always feel like practicing. Or that I never get frustrated with various technical aspects of the instrument. But at the end of the day, I know all these challenges are transforming me into a stronger pianist. And a better person.

I hope it’s the same with you. Regardless of whether you’re working through a beginner book or are learning a Chopin etude, don’t give up! Keep at it and look for little ways to stay motivated. Embrace the growth mindset in piano and in life.

And if you’re looking for other ways to improve your piano playing confidence, make sure to check out these posts:

I also highly recommend you check out Mindset by Carol Dweck. It’s an easy read and applicable to both piano and life!

As always, I would love to hear from you! Where are you struggling in your piano journey? Or do you have any secrets to overcoming piano-related barriers? Do you relate to the concepts of fixed and growth mindset?

Please drop a comment below so I can address your questions and challenges here on Only Getting Better! And until next time, stay safe, healthy, and never stop seeking the best version of yourself!

The ONE Thing: A Case for Narrowing Your Focus

The ONE Thing: A Case for Narrowing Your Focus

“If you chase two rabbits, you will catch neither one.”

Russian Proverb

If you’re a blogger, a business owner, or someone with varied interests, I’m sure you’ve heard the advice before. “Find your one thing and channel all your energy into it. Niche down or fail.”

Take a look around, and you’ll see countless examples of wildly successful people. Presumably successful because they’ve gone all-in on their ONE thing at the expense of all else.

As I write this, the summer 2021 Olympics are just wrapping up. And if you think about it, can there possibly be a better example of niching down than an Olympic athlete?

Decades of hard work, sacrifice, and intense focus all come down to one moment. ONE moment that ends in either joyful celebration or heartbreakingly devastating defeat.

And if you’re anything like me, this extreme example is precisely why the advice to niche down falls on deaf ears. I don’t argue the fact that intense focus yields extraordinary results.

It’s the other half of the equation, or the loss of everything else at the expense of that ONE thing, that scares me.

This post may contain affiliate links, and as an affiliate of Amazon, I may receive a commission at no extra cost to you if you purchase through a link. Please see my full disclosure for further information. All photos courtesy of Canva.

A Tale of Multiple Interests

I’ve always had an array of potentially all-consuming interests. As an example, my full-time gig is as a nurse practitioner, but I also have a fine arts degree in music.

I started this blog to indulge my love of writing and personal development, but I also moonlight as an organist in a few local churches. And let’s not forget my fascination for anything involving horses but especially the art of dressage.

One could argue that perhaps I put a little too much stock in that old saying, “Don’t put all your eggs in one basket.”

I thrive on variety.

But at times, it feels like I can’t move ahead in anything because my focus is so broad. And to make things even murkier, throw a husband, 3 kids, and the weight of maintaining a house in the mix.

It’s not an exaggeration to say that some days feel like slogging through a lake of molasses in January.

I’ll be the first to admit that the sludge is my own doing through a failure to pare anything down. And my resolve to excel in various fields has only been spurred on by works like Range: Why Generalists Triumph in a Specialized World.

But sometimes, the chaos of chasing so many dreams drags you down. It causes you to look around for an alternate perspective. ONE perspective to fit all those individual puzzle pieces into a cohesive picture.

I found such a perspective in The ONE Thing by Gary Keller.

Success Comes from Subtraction Rather Than Addition

“Extraordinary results are directly determined by how narrow you can make your focus.”

Gary Keller

The ONE Thing is a book that frequents top 10 personal development lists. It’s mentioned over and over by self-help gurus.

The book is written by Gary Keller, founder of the largest real estate company in the world. An internet search reveals his net worth of around $35 million.

Keller describes his success as partially attributable to figuring out the ONE thing that makes everything else easier. And once you figure out that ONE thing, everything else falls into place.

Success, therefore, comes from weeding out the excess rather than taking more on. It’s a simple matter of subtraction rather than addition.

And the concept of doing less is a refreshing one in a culture constantly preaching the philosophy of doing more.

There is No Such Thing as Multitasking

Did you know that multitasking is a myth? It’s physically impossible for your brain to process two conscious thoughts at once effectively.

To prove my point, try this little experiment. In your head, add up 546 and 376 at the same time you spell OUTSTANDING aloud.

Did you do it? If so, you might have superpowers!

But if you weren’t successful, take heart. You’re human! Our brains aren’t designed to consciously perform multiple functions simultaneously.

There are tasks that your brain has learned to automate, such as walking and chewing gum. But neither job typically requires deep thought.

True success, however, comes from the type of sustained focus that can only be achieved by blocking out all distractions. Regardless of your end goal, breaking each step into pieces and focusing solely on the tiny action steps is crucial.

Mastery is More of a Journey

“Only one who devotes himself to a cause with his whole strength and soul can be a true master. For this reason, mastery demands all of a person.”

Albert Einstein

Do you know the one thing that the most successful people in the world all have in common?

They never give up. No matter what life throws in their way. They keep moving forward towards their ultimate goal of mastery.

Successful people realize that success isn’t about a destination. It’s a journey.

Success means showing up day after day. It means putting in the work even when it’s unattractive, demanding, or boring.

It also means blocking out all else to become truly great at their ONE thing. Sometimes that means permanently shelving other passions or interests for the sake of moving forward in one specific area.

At other times, success means scaling back on other interests for a season to clear space for that ONE thing which will then make everything else easier.

A great example of this is pursuing a degree. Being in school means devoting large chunks of time to school-related activities. And because we all have the same 24 hours in a day, you typically must cut down on other activities to ensure success in your academic program. But the hope is that once you finish, your higher level of income will then support your various interests.

And the journey to mastery never ends because there’s ALWAYS another level. There’s always another post to publish, sales quota to meet, or product idea waiting to be created.

Mastery means breaking barriers and pushing limits, both complex tasks when your attention is spread too widely.

Balance Doesn’t Exist When Pursuing Your ONE Thing

I may have mentioned this before, but my interests have bounced around dramatically for most of my life. Although they have all remained relatively stable, there are certain times of my life when I pursue one more strongly than the others.

And I’ve found that I tend to chase interests at the neglect of all others. Although I make progress in one area, I then felt a sense of guilt about the others due to the lack of progress.

It had me questioning balance and whether I was setting myself up for a life of hopeless imbalance.

This again inspired a bit of guilt, and so the cycle continued.

Fortunately, Keller’s philosophy on balance differs from most of social media. He asserts that there can be no balance when you’re genuinely pursuing your ONE thing because success depends upon excluding anything that doesn’t involve that thing.

Imbalance naturally follows mastery.

It’s a strangely profound and comforting reassurance that my efforts are not entirely off base.

Living Without Regrets

“A life worth living might be measured in many ways, but the one that stands above all others is living a life of no regrets.”

Gary Keller

Although there are many great takeaway messages from the book, one of the most powerful is to create a life free of regrets. And as someone with a huge variety of interests, it can be easy to make excuses rather than feel the sting of regret.

Excuses about why I’m not as far along as I’d like to be in a particular area. Or excuses about my limited ability to devote time to any one pursuit.

But the benefit of applying all your focus to ONE thing is that your power is magnified. Focus means you find that thing and forget the rest. And by doing this, you can look back and know that you gave it your all.

Not some half-hearted attempt at trying. Or a bunch of excuses about why you never achieved your goal.

You have the satisfaction of knowing you either succeeded or gave it your all in the attempt.

How to Apply The ONE Thing to Your Life

I’ll admit that I was skeptical when starting this book. Mainly because I consider myself to be multi-passionate, and I initially didn’t care for the thought of giving anything up.

On the other hand, I adore seeing progress! I love being able to look back at where I started and tell that my hard work has made a difference.

And thanks to having my hands in so many pots, I’ve not had that type of satisfaction as often as I would like. Even before reading the book, frustration over not making significant strides has caused me to contemplate simplifying my life a tad.

I’m a firm believer that you shouldn’t read personal development unless you intend to improve your life. There’s so much value out there if you’re willing to open your mind to alternative perspectives.

And with that being said, The ONE Thing has encouraged me to narrow my focus to improve my impact. The following are specific ways in which I intend to implement what I learned.

If you too struggle with feeling spread too thin, check out the book. Try a few of these tactics and watch your outlook (and feelings of accomplishment!) dramatically improve.

Accept Chaos

If you’re anything like me, you’ve probably spent your entire life avoiding chaos. You love wrapping things up into neat little packages.

But the flip side is that you likely feel stressed when life doesn’t go as planned. You spend so much energy fighting the chaos that you have little left over for actually living.

It’s time to release your need for control. Fighting the chaos isn’t getting you anywhere, so why not embrace it?

Accept that when you focus intensely on one thing, everything else gets put on the back burner.

I’m not saying you should forget about your husband and kids to focus solely on starting your business. Or let your house return to its natural state of decay while you spend hours happily blogging away (guilty as charged on this one!).

But I am saying you can expect chaos in your life when you choose to narrow your focus. And that’s ok.

Time Blocking for Your ONE Thing

Throughout his book, Keller embraces the concept of time blocking. If you’re not familiar, it involves dedicating larger chunks of time to very specific activities.

His more specific recommendation is to chunk out at least 4 hours each day for your ONE thing. He does acknowledge that you may have legitimate reasons why you may need to shorten your daily time allotment.

The main point is that you need to prioritize the activities that will promote progress in your ONE thing.

Question Everything

“What’s the ONE thing you can do such that by doing it, everything else will be easier or unnecessary?”

Gary Keller

Throughout the book, Keller refers to the ONE question you need to ask yourself to stay on track.

He recommends asking yourself this question first thing in the morning and periodically checking in with yourself throughout the day. Questioning yourself ensures you stick to the straight and narrow path of focus.

It also helps to cut down or eliminate all those little unnecessary distractors we all engage in throughout the day by forcing you to remain accountable.

For me, those distractors include checking email, Facebook and stopping to chat with people during the day.

Time is our most valuable resource, and we have to protect it continually, or it vanishes without a single thing to show for its presence.

Say “No”

And speaking of priorities, Keller is very clear about the need to say “no.” A lot.

You must keep your ONE thing front and center. Consider everything else a distraction.

As a serial people pleaser, saying “no” is sometimes incredibly difficult for me. But hearing that saying “no” is crucial to my overall success somehow takes the stigma out of it.

I’ve said it before, but I’ll say again that it’s refreshing to hear the message of less rather than more as a secret for success.

Toast Your Wins

As a high achiever, I have a difficult time celebrating success. I tend to jump from accomplishment to accomplishment with scarcely a breath in between.

Despite Keller’s advice on buckling down and focusing on the task at hand, he implores you to celebrate your wins. Big or small, I wholeheartedly agree.

If you don’t take the time to enjoy life, what’s the point of working hard? Without celebration, life turns into one obligation after another on a fast track to burnout.

For your quality of life, you absolutely must celebrate those milestones!

It’s Your Turn to Find Your ONE Thing

Whether you’re trying to balance a full-time career with a side gig, have too many hobbies, or anything in between, I truly hope you found this post helpful!

Despite my initial reluctance to dive into the book, I have to admit that it was well worth the read. I’ve already started implementing a plan to narrow my focus, accept chaos, and toast my wins, big and small.

For even more great advice, make sure you check out The ONE Thing by Gary Keller. Below are a couple of additional books I consider essential reading for high-achievers.

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As always, make sure to leave a comment below with your thoughts on the post. Are you struggling with multipotentialite tendencies? Have you ever considered narrowing your focus? And what would you need to get started on your journey toward more tremendous success?

5 Powerful Ways to Halt Limiting Beliefs in their Tracks

5 Powerful Ways to Halt Limiting Beliefs in their Tracks

As the name implies, limiting beliefs are beliefs that hold you back in some area of your life. These beliefs about yourself or the world keep you stuck in toxic patterns of guilt, sadness, and inadequacy.

They keep you from flourishing into the person you’re meant to be.

Limiting beliefs live deep in your subconscious, fueling fear and driving your decision-making.

And do you want to know the worst part?

The fact that limiting beliefs stem from your subconscious rather than your thinking mind means that identifying and reversing them can be tricky.

Tricky but NOT impossible!

Stick with me as we unpack limiting beliefs, including examples, where they come from, and most importantly, powerful ways to reduce their influence in your life.

This post may contain affiliate links, and as an affiliate of Amazon, I may receive a commission at no extra cost to you if you purchase through a link. Please see my full disclosure for further information.

One Shark and Several Fish

Have you heard of the shark and fish experiment?

It’s a potent example of how limiting beliefs can replace even the most fundamental instincts.

As the story goes, a marine biologist decided to see whether a shark could be conditioned to stop eating fish.

The biologist started by putting a shark in a tank with small fish. Obviously, the shark ate the fish.

The next step was to create a physical boundary between the shark and fish. As you can imagine, the shark made an aggressive attack on the plexiglass, initially injuring itself.

The shark continued its fruitless attacks on the fish. Eventually, the shark’s attacks grew less and less aggressive.

After a while, the marine biologist removed the plexiglass.

And guess what?

Not one fish was harmed. The shark did not attempt to attack even though the physical boundary was gone.

With the plexiglass gone, the shark could have feasted to its heart’s content. But the shark couldn’t overcome the limiting beliefs that overrode its basic survival instincts and eventually died.

Unfortunately, the same thing can happen to our dreams and goals if we don’t identify and breakthrough our self-constructed barriers.

What are limiting beliefs?

In most instances, limiting beliefs are formed in early childhood. At the most basic level, limiting beliefs start as the brain’s attempt at rationalizing a situation.

Let’s look at a widespread limiting belief that millions all over the world share: “I am not important.”

When you were growing up, how many times did you ask for your parents’ attention? I’m guessing it’s somewhere around the millions.

For whatever reason, your parents were unable to give you the attention you were seeking at that moment. And they may have had a perfectly legitimate reason for not paying attention.

But at that moment, your little brain came up with a story. A story that has stuck with you to this day.

And the story deep down inside is that you don’t matter.

Since that time, the thought that you’re not important has become so deeply ingrained within that it runs on autopilot. Much like the shark hitting the plexiglass, you’ve constructed stories that keep you from reaching your full potential.

Limiting Beliefs as a Safety Mechanism

Although I’ve painted a grim picture of limiting beliefs as a whole, it’s worth mentioning that they do serve as a safety mechanism. They keep us from inherently questionable decisions like picking up a random hitchhiker or stealing an ATM.

To backtrack a bit, when you boil down the most basic of all brain functions, safety is the #1 priority. It’s your brain’s job to keep you safe.

And although you may be aware of this primary function of the subconscious, seeing it in action isn’t always obvious. But your subconscious is constantly on the alert for potentially “dangerous” situations.

Over time, the definition of “dangerous” has changed drastically. Danger used to mean an attack from a saber tooth tiger or a gang of marauding pirates.

But nowadays, danger comes in the form of public speaking, a job interview, or even a difficult conversation with your spouse. It’s a far cry from the immediate threat of life or limb.

And to be fair, the constant processing of environmental stimuli is a tremendous job. It’s way too big for the conscious mind to tackle, thus the reason for the subconscious.

But when the subconscious picks up on negative emotions, it feeds stories to the conscious in an attempt to keep you far from danger.

The Fine Line Between Safety and Stagnation

And when your subconscious picks up on negativity, those limiting beliefs come out in full force. They form a barrier that can be difficult to overcome.

In days gone by, the barrier would be a good thing. It would’ve kept you alive.

But in today’s world, the barrier keeps you from honestly expressing yourself or going all-in on something you’re passionate about. Negativity, therefore, starts a feedback loop fueled by fear and false stories you’ve concocted based on events you may not even have fully understood at the time.

Although the stories were created when you were young, it’s never too late to reverse them.

Let’s explore how you can halt limiting beliefs in their tracks!

How can you expand your limiting beliefs?

It’s difficult to reverse limiting beliefs about yourself unless you’re crystal clear on what those beliefs are. Asking yourself a series of questions and capturing the responses by putting pen to paper is hands down your best bet.

It turns out that writing is one of the best ways to unite the logical left brain with the creative right. This “whole-brain” approach is an effective way to access complex emotions and thought patterns. A

In other words, journaling connects the two parts of your brain in a way that enables you to understand yourself and the world around you more deeply.

If you haven’t already incorporated journaling into your daily routine, now is the time! Let’s walk through how you can apply this powerful technique to unlock your limiting beliefs.

Step 1: Uncover Your Limiting Beliefs Through Journaling

In the first step, you will consider the various areas of your life and determine where you’re at in this moment.

Ask yourself the following questions:

  • What are the goals I’m working toward? (self, home, work, relationships, hobbies, etc.)
  • Am I satisfied with the progress I’m making in each of these areas?
  • Are the results in each area consistent with where I would like to be?
  • And are there areas where I would like to make progress but just can’t seem to get ahead?

Step 1 is a brainstorming session. Now is NOT the time to censor yourself!

Remember that no one has to read what you’re putting on paper. The most crucial piece of uncovering your emotions and thought processes is honesty with yourself.

Step 2: Analyze Your Writing

As you write, pay close attention to your mood and energy levels when you think about all the different aspects of your life. If you have particularly negative thoughts or feelings about something, consider those feelings a red flag for limiting beliefs.

Equally important are your explanations about why you’re not getting results because those stories almost always have their roots in limiting beliefs.

As you think about what you’ve written, carefully consider whether the stories you’re telling yourself are serving you in any way.

Remember all that stuff about the subconscious and safety? This is where all that comes into play. As an example, one of my most deeply rooted limiting beliefs is that I’m not good enough.

This belief manifests itself as significant performance anxiety in my work as a pianist. Although I love playing the piano, the limiting belief that I’m not good enough causes my hands to shake and my heart to beat faster.

Both physical reactions make playing accurately infinitely more challenging.

Deep down, my subconscious has hard-wired feelings of inadequacy, resulting in physical changes in a performance situation. And all this happens because my brain interprets fear as a negative emotion to be avoided at all costs.

Step 3: Flip the Script

Once you uncover your core limiting beliefs, it’s time to challenge those thoughts. Remember that most of your limiting beliefs were formed in early childhood when your understanding of the world around you was incredibly limited.

And seeing them written in black and white in front of you has a way of uncovering them as the lies they’ve always been. Because your thoughts are deeply personal, it’s easy to believe that thoughts are truth.

But in most cases, thoughts are simply thoughts. Neither positive nor negative. It’s only when you assign some type of meaning to them that they can exert their influence one way or the other.

Writing your own script, therefore, becomes crucial.

For each limiting belief you uncover, use your story-telling prowess to concoct a belief that positively serves you.

Step 4: Find the Evidence

“Whether you think you can or you can’t, you’re right.”

Henry Ford

Once you’ve come up with a new story, it’s time to solidify it. You can lock the new story in by looking for evidence around you that supports your more positive belief system.

And it may sound crazy, but there’s an area of the brain designed specifically for this task.

It’s called the reticular activating system, and its job is to filter out millions of stimuli to find those most relevant to you. B

The reticular activating system is why you hear your name in a noisy room. Or why you buy a red car and suddenly see red cars everywhere.

We recently added a Goldendoodle puppy to our family. Before bringing him home, I rarely saw other doodles out and about. Since his addition to our family, I see at least one doodle wherever I go.

And the truth is, doodles were always everywhere. But until getting one, my reticular activating system never alerted me to their presence.

What this means for you is that if you look for evidence to support your positive beliefs, you’ll find it. Unfortunately, the converse is also true. And up until now, your reticular activating system has been programmed to find evidence supporting your limiting beliefs.

Step 5: Personal Development

I’m not here to sugarcoat anything. Reversing your limiting beliefs takes work. This process takes serious effort! But the alternative is to stay stuck in a negative cycle of guilt and inadequacy.

Ain’t no one got time for that!

As you create new belief patterns and are looking for evidence to support those narratives, don’t underestimate the power of personal development.

Whether in the form of blogs, podcasts, or even masterminds, filling your mind with positivity is powerful.

I also highly recommend paying attention to your mood and energy levels. If your mood and energy are low, it’s much easier to get sucked into being a negative Nelly.

It becomes difficult to break out of your comfort zone and away from those tired old limiting beliefs. Taking care of yourself physically, mentally, and emotionally is something I can’t recommend highly enough.

It’s the key between telling yourself that you matter and actually feeling as if you matter.

If you’re looking for some quality personal development, check out some of my top posts:

And if you’re looking for further inspiration, make sure you check out my top book recommendations:

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Feel free to drop a comment below with the limiting beliefs you’re struggling with right now. I’d love to support you on your journey toward a more positive inner (and outer) world!

A: Purcell, M. (2016, May 17). The Health Benefits of Journaling. The Health Benefits of Journaling (psychcentral.com)

B: van Schneider, T. (2017, June 22). If you want it, you just might get it. The reticular activating system explained. If you want it, you might get it. The Reticular Activating System explained | by Tobias van Schneider | Desk of van Schneider | Medium

How to Dramatically Improve Your Mental Focus

How to Dramatically Improve Your Mental Focus

The world is full of distractions. Thanks to technology, we can now follow any breaking news story in even the most remote corner of the world. Or stay caught up with friends from high school without as much as a phone call. We can even entertain ourselves for hours on end simply by watching 30-second video clips made by strangers.

All these distractions can make focusing on one task for any length of time feel impossible. And it can seem as if the world discourages the deep mental focus necessary for goal achievement and true mastery.

The good news is that there are ways you can dramatically improve your mental focus. Even if you’re not training for the Olympics or to be a cab driver in London, learning to improve your mental focus has incredible benefits. From stress relief to momentum to a greater sense of accomplishment, taking the time to improve this vital skill is well worth the effort!

In the following post, I’ve broken down the various ways you can improve focus both in the moment and over time. Although each tip requires effort, the benefits over time far outweigh the time spent up-front.

This post may contain affiliate links and as a member of the Amazon Affiliate program, this means we may receive a commission at no extra cost to you if you make a purchase through a link. Please see our full disclosure for further information.

How to Dramatically Improve Your Mental Focus NOW

Although there are long-term tactics and daily habits which compound to better focus over time, there are also ways you can improve your mental focus right here, right now.

Pay Attention to Your Surroundings

Check the clutter. Does your environment encourage you to focus, or is it distracting? I’m speaking from experience when I say that focusing surrounded by messiness is nearly impossible.

As an example, I give you Exhibit A, my living room, when I sat down to start this post yesterday. It gave off an incredibly messy, cluttered, and chaotic vibe. And although I tried as hard as I could, I wrote barely ten sentences.

Yikes … did a typhoon hit my living room?!

Getting into the flow of creativity felt impossible.

So I took a break. I hit up Pinterest and got my organizational groove going. And then I made a quick Wal-Mart stop.

Three short hours later, my living room was well on its way to Better Homes & Gardens greatness. Maybe it wasn’t quite impressive enough for a magazine, but things feel 100% more relaxing.

Huge improvement! Ready for my photo shoot …

And when I’m relaxed, it’s much easier to get into a creative flow.

Needless to say, after taking a timeout to organize my environment, my mental focus improved by leaps and bounds. If you’re also struggling to get into a creative flow, take a quick check of your surroundings. It may be well worth your while to take time out to be more productive in the long run.

Limit Distractions

It’s ironic that as I type, my 5-year-old is whispering, “and now the chickens have the ball” into my ear. And the dog has wrapped himself up around the patio furniture for the 16th time today.

If I haven’t mentioned it before, I’ll say it here. Life is one huge distraction!

Although distraction comes in all shapes and sizes, it’s not all bad. I love my family more than anything and acknowledge that my kids are growing bigger every day. At some point, they will no longer be whispering random phrases about chickens in my ear.

I’m thankful for the distraction my family brings because it reminds me of what’s truly important.

But having limitations on my time and attention means I’ve learned to limit wherever I can. One of the ways I’ve done this is by shutting off phone app alerts. As a result, I am no longer interrupted every time I get an email. Shutting off phone alerts is one of the simplest ways to improve your mental focus.

Although stopping a task to respond to one email may not seem like a big deal, it adds up over time. Research shows that it can take around 23 minutes to re-focus on a task after an interruption.1 Multiply that one email by the total number of emails you get in one day, and it’s easy to see why limiting interruptions matters!

Add Variety

This next tip is for you if you want to improve a skill or to understand a topic on a deeper level. Whether you’re trying to become a better pianist or pass a business law exam, get creative with your study time.

The more creative you can get, the better! For example, if you’re studying for an anatomy quiz, bust out your lyric writing skills and pair that previously boring material with your favorite pop tune. You could also try creating a quiz, explaining the topic to a friend, or even writing a blog post about it.

And when practicing a skill or studying, keep in mind that learning doesn’t stop at remembering the information. You have to also practice retrieving the information you’ve stored in your brain. Finding creative ways to store and access the information ensures stronger neural connections and the ability to apply the knowledge in various settings.

Using a variety of techniques to learn keeps things exciting. And when something is interesting, it’s much easier to improve your mental focus.

Don’t Scratch the Itch

Have you ever been trying to get into a creative workflow, but all these intrusive thoughts keep popping up?

“I wonder if Jessica had her baby yet. I should check Facebook.”

“Is it going to rain later today? I should check the weather.”

“What are the current COVID-19 rates in my state? Maybe I should check the news.”

It’s almost as if your brain knows it will be working hard, and it wants to avoid the work by distracting you. And it usually distracts you with incredibly superficial ideas. The type of ideas that take almost zero energy to address.

And since these ideas take no energy, one would think they’re not a big deal. Except for a couple of things. Remember how long it takes to re-focus when you’ve been distracted? Multiply that one distraction by the number of times your attention shifts from the topic at hand during the day.

The other thing is that distraction can become a habit. Give in too many times, and your brain forgets how to do the challenging work necessary for goal accomplishment.

My brain loves to throw superficial distractions at me constantly. I’ve found that when I consistently give in, it’s much tougher to get into a creative flow. But I’ve learned a simple trick to thwart my brain’s attempts at laziness.

Whenever a distracting thought comes up, I tell myself that if I still have the burning desire to check Facebook in 5 minutes, I will. Problem solved! And by the time 5 minutes have passed, I’ve completely forgotten about it.

If you’re looking for more tips on getting into a creative flow, make sure to check out this post.

Take a Break

After you’ve put in focus for a length of time, give yourself the reward of a break! Breaks are essential if you’ve been focusing intensely for a sustained period because your brain needs to recharge.

So indulge in that guilty Netflix pleasure or chat it up with a friend. You’ve earned it!

How to Improve Your Mental Focus Over Time

Now that you have a solid understanding of quick fixes for how to improve your mental focus, it’s time to switch gears to habit changes over time.

Set Goals

Although setting goals is essential, one of the more important tasks is to review your progress. Are you attaining the goals that you set for yourself? When you look back at where you spend your time and energy, are you satisfied?

There’s a ton of advice out there about setting goals. Anyone can sit down and write a list of things they would like to accomplish. But setting goals is the easy part. The hard part comes when you commit to a goal and focus on making it happen.

Although it can be difficult to acknowledge this truth, you actually can’t do it all. And depending on the size of the goal, you have to make tough choices. Pursuing one goal often means saying “no” to 26 others.

But you can accomplish great things if you align your goals and actions.

And you can dramatically improve your mental focus by gaining clarity and becoming specific about your goals. Our brains love clear-cut and measurable when it comes to goal-setting, while vague only results in mental clutter.

Therefore, if you want to improve your mental focus, consider whether your goals align with your actions. If they don’t, it’s time to make tough choices about where to devote your time and energy.

Check out this post for how to gain clarity on your life and goals.

Make a Plan

After taking time to seek clarity on your goals, it’s time to set a clear direction for where you want to go.

It may sound counterintuitive, but you only need to figure out the next step or two. You don’t need steps 3-5 or even 8-11 when you’re just getting started.

Take one step at a time. The next step will reveal itself when you’re ready for it.

Even if it’s a concise one, having a plan helps to reduce mental clutter and improve your mental focus over time. And, if nothing else, it gives you a way to track your ongoing progress.

Improve Your Mental Focus by Sleeping & Exercising

Sleep and exercise go hand-in-hand with better cognition. Each has a role in reducing stress and promoting feel-good chemicals in the brain. Both are vital components of overall health.

Since we’ve already established that specifics important, try to get at least 7 to 8 hours of sleep per night, pair with 150 minutes of aerobic exercise weekly, and you’ll be well on your way to improved mental focus!2

And if you’re looking for tips on improving the quality of your sleep, make sure you check out this post.

Meditate to Improve Your Mental Focus

Alongside sleep and regular exercise, meditation is rising to the top as a practice beneficial for decreasing anxiety and improving mental focus.

Although there are different types of meditation, mental focus is central to most practices. In some instances, it may be awareness of the breath. Focusing your thoughts on a specific image or feeling may form the basis of other meditative practices.

Regardless of the type, meditation also involves regularly refocusing after distraction. And being able to refocus after distraction is a beneficial skill in today’s highly distractible world!

Although research into meditation and the brain is relatively new, results have been positive. One study even demonstrated enhanced focus among people who regularly meditate compared to those who do not.3

Meditation offers a host of other benefits to those who practice it regularly. It may just become your new favorite self-care activity!

Play Games

I’m not kidding! There is research to support specific games having the ability to improve your mental focus.4 Mario Kart didn’t quite make the list, but if you’re a fan of sudoku and crossword puzzles, you’re in luck!

You could also try chess, word searches, and jigsaw puzzles.

These and similar activities improve both working and short-term memory while improving problem-solving skills. How amazing is that?

Stop Multitasking

It may come as somewhat of a shock, but did you know that our brains can’t multitask? Although it seems as if we can do two (or more) tasks at once, our brains can only do one. What you are experiencing when trying to do multiple tasks at once are micro shifts in attention that facilitate the completion of tasks.

But the micro shifts in attention come at the cost of both efficiency and accuracy. And I have to think that multitasking regularly prevents the deep, mental focus required for specific tasks. It encourages superficial and distracted thinking, which is the exact opposite of focus.

Multitasking is difficult for me to break free from because my work and home life are inherently filled with it. I find myself in a constant state of distraction, and finding the time and mental energy to focus is challenging.

But I’m always searching for ways to improve. And by trying each of the above strategies, I’ve improved my mental focus over time.

It’s Your Turn to Improve Your Mental Focus

And there you have it! Actionable tips you can try to improve your mental focus both in the short term and over time. Give them a try, and let me know how they work in the comments below.

If you’re looking for even more resources, check out these life-changing books!

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1. Wong, K. (2015, July 29). How Long it Takes to Get Back on Track After a Distraction. How Long It Takes to Get Back on Track After a Distraction (lifehacker.com)

2: Harvard Health Publishing. (2020, October 1). Tips to Improve Concentration. Tips to improve concentration – Harvard Health

3: Gowin, J. (2012, April 20). Brain Scans Show How Meditation Improves Mental Focus. Brain Scans Show How Meditation Improves Mental Focus | Psychology Today

4: Raypole, C. (2019, September 3). 12 Tips to Improve Your Concentration. How to Improve Concentration: 12 Science-Backed Tips, and More (healthline.com)

How to Get Out of a Creative Funk

How to Get Out of a Creative Funk

You love putting new and exciting things out into the world. Whether it’s writing, painting, music, or crafts, you have a spark of creativity just itching to burst itself into flames.

Except lately, something has been holding you back. That spark has dimmed into a barely perceptible flicker of light threatening to extinguish itself at any moment.

Your passion for creating is still there somewhere, but it’s buried beneath layers of perfectionism, distraction, and the emotional drain which accompanies your busy life.

Unfortunately, you have passed into the “creative funk,” a place where ideas dry up and the music stops.

First of all, it’s essential to know that EVERYONE who has even one creative bone in their body goes through a creative funk sometimes. No one can be brilliant all the time!

But even knowing that getting into a slump is common doesn’t change the fact that you can feel cranky and frustrated when it does. After all, isn’t getting into the flow of your art one of the best feelings in the world!?

Although going through a slump is disheartening, there are steps you can take to find your inspiration once again. Let’s dive right in so you can start tackling that creative funk of yours!

This post may contain affiliate links, and as a member of the Amazon Affiliates program, this means we may receive a commission, at no extra cost to you, if you make a purchase through a link. Please see our full disclosure for further information.

Free Writing

Even if you’re not a writer, taking time to write down the thoughts surrounding your block can be exceedingly helpful. You don’t even need a fancy journal. All you need is paper, a pen, and a willingness to sit with your thoughts for a few minutes.

Don’t think too hard about your responses. Put pen to paper and write whatever comes to mind. Now is also a great time to bench your inner critic.

Start by asking yourself what you feel right now. Are your feelings, as a whole, positive or negative? Take some time to explore what may be contributing to your current emotional state.

Maybe you’ve been putting in too many hours at work. Or you’ve taken on too many tasks at home. Perhaps you haven’t taken the time you need to indeed rest and recharge.

Then ask yourself what you would rather be feeling. Think about how it feels when you’re at your creative best, and everything simply flows. Are there specific outside factors that help you get to that place of flow? Maybe it’s that one channel on Pandora. Or the corner table at Starbucks, iced cinnamon dolce latte in hand.

Is there a specific time of day when you feel most creative? And how can you arrange your schedule to accommodate creating at that time?

Finally, what inspires you? Is it spending time in nature? Or maybe it’s a chat with your bestie. Perhaps some of your best ideas find you during a long run.

Now it’s time to close the gap between the creative funk and your genius. Go back and read over what you wrote. Take a hard look at those hazy thoughts which once aimlessly bounced around in your head. Start making connections now that those thoughts are staring back at you in black in white on the page.

If you still feel cemented in the mundane, check out my next tip for shaking a creative funk.

Find Inspiration Wherever You Can

Although I tend to take comfort in habits and routines, sometimes they are an absolute buzzkill for your creativity!

New experiences, different ways to do the same old thing, and shaking it up are vital to keeping life fresh. And when life is fresh, creativity flows.

Maybe it’s even time to try a completely new art form. If you’re a writer, have you ever considered learning to play an instrument?

Or if music is your thing, have you ever considered taking one of those evening painting classes? Perhaps a stained glass art class is something that excites you.

Figure out what inspires you right now. Is it time to pick up that partially finished quilting project you started several years ago? Or maybe you need a trip to the craft store to spark some inspiration.

Creativity can come in so many different forms, and sometimes it takes stepping out of your monotonous routine to get those juices flowing again!

For more on getting into the flow, check out this inspiring post!

Seek out Support

If your creative funk persists, perhaps it’s time to consider help. Fortunately, support comes in a multitude of forms.

Maybe it’s time to find a teacher. There have been so many times in the past when my piano playing starts to get stale. I find myself playing the same pieces over and over. And I continue stumbling over the same techniques time after time.

But reaching out to a teacher has given me the exact inspiration I needed to master the technical aspects. And most importantly, it’s reignited my passion for playing.

Help can also come in the form of emotional support from friends. If your friends also have creative inclinations, chances are excellent that they’ve also encountered a creative funk or two. Talking about what you’re going through with someone else can be incredibly cathartic and may be precisely what you need to get your groove back.

And speaking of talking it out, never underestimate the power of therapy. Therapy can be beneficial if you find that the roots of your block run deeper than simply feeling uninspired. Fear of failure, perfectionism, low self-esteem, and other serious issues stunt your creative growth and impact diverse areas of your life. But a therapist can help you work through those issues, freeing your creativity and helping you embrace a more fearless life.

Pay Attention to Your Cycle

I’m a sucker for productivity and feel my best when maximizing my “to-do” list. On the flip side, I feel frustrated and overwhelmed on those days when my level of energy does not match the number of things I need to check off.

And deep down, I’ve always known that having fluctuations in energy is an entirely normal human experience. But it wasn’t until I discovered this book that I realized how to work with my biology.

In her book entitled Do Less, author Kate Northrup unpacks the key difference in productivity between men and women. She asserts that if women embrace the concept of life as a cycle instead of linear, they are in a better position to embrace energy fluctuations. And by embracing instead of fighting energy fluctuations, productivity improves.

Northrup presents a fresh take on productivity. It’s a take that throws guilt out the window and encourages you to reframe your thinking around productivity. She affirms that the path to happiness and peace is paved with “no’s” instead of “yes’s.”

And once you’ve ditched all those obligations, guilty thoughts, and unrealistic expectations, you’d be amazed at how much room is left over for creativity!

If you haven’t had the pleasure of reading Do Less, click the Amazon link below to revolutionize your life!

Change Up Your Environment

Although I’m not a student of the feng shui movement, I have become very aware that the environment plays a massive role in my creativity. If the space around me is messy and chaotic, my ability to create becomes stunted.

This post wouldn’t have been written if I hadn’t first taken the time to clear my space. Unfortunately, my “office” currently consists of a table in the living room. This table is often littered with toys, homework from the kids, and a litany of miscellaneous items without definite homes.

I attempted to write in this state of general chaos and disarray for several weeks but felt utterly unmotivated and uninspired. Until I took a few minutes to free myself from the clutter. At which time, the words once again began flowing as they do when I’m at my absolute best.

Sometimes overcoming a block means taking a hard look at your surroundings.

Do you ALWAYS work in the same spot at home? Try working on your patio instead. Or maybe, like me, you simply need to clean up your workspace.

Maybe you always sit in the same corner booth at Starbucks. Try checking out the Caribou down the street instead.

There are a million tiny ways to improve your surroundings to facilitate creativity. And if none of the above advice has reversed your creative funk, maybe it’s time to take a break!

Take a Break

Taking a break can be as simple as taking a nap or going for a walk. It could also mean getting out for a round of golf. Or maybe your inspiration will return after finishing that compelling novel you started last week.

Perhaps getting wrapped up in the newest blockbuster thriller will be enough to set you on the path to greatness again.

There are times when your brain needs to step away for a bit to process creativity subconsciously. And even if it seems as if your mind is fully absorbed in the activity, it’s still hashing out that blog post or navigating the technical challenges of the piece you’re perfecting.

The break could be 20 minutes, or maybe you even choose to step away for several days. You are not a machine and are therefore incapable of consistently churning out content without downtime. Embrace the breaks so you can more fully embrace your art!

Are you feeling emotionally drained? Check out this post for help.

Cut Yourself a Break

And speaking of breaks, don’t pressure yourself when you’re not feeling it! When your energy is lacking, cut down on your creative output instead of amping up the pressure on yourself. Try to get creative with your creativity. For example, can you re-purpose anything you’ve previously done if you simply don’t have the energy to create something new?

Or do you have a partially or almost fully completed project that you could put the finishing touches on so you can gain some momentum? Finishing a project can sometimes be enough to propel you away from that creative funk you’ve been battling.

Cutting yourself a break also means freeing yourself from your own judgment. Give yourself the freedom to create something terrible because you never know when it might turn into your greatest masterpiece. In many cases, we are the ones standing in our own way.

Waste Time

And speaking of productivity, if you’re even the tiniest bit of a perfectionist or a mom, it can be easy to get wrapped up in productivity. When your list is a mile long, it’s tempting to pack “productive” activities into every single minute.

For example, you may insist upon listening to podcasts during your commute. Or use the little spare time you have to read books about productivity, time management, and other highly “non-fun” topics.

But eliminating unfocused time from your day might be the very thing killing your creativity.

Your brain needs a lack of structure sometimes to weave together all that genius inside just waiting to be released. Consider this your invitation to waste time.

Yes, you heard me correctly. Go ahead. Watch a few episodes of your favorite telenovela. Laugh your way through the new Kevin Hart movie. Or simply enjoy a stroll through the neighborhood while listening to the playlist of your teenage years.

Just make sure to leave the guilt at home.

If you lack clarity, check out this post to find yourself again.

The 5-Minute Rule

If you’ve tried all of the above and are still hopelessly stuck, here’s the secret weapon for which you’ve been searching. This solution is guaranteed to banish the creative funk you’ve been wallowing in.

The first step is to figure out some type of reward. Maybe it’s an episode of your favorite show. Or perhaps it’s cheesecake from your favorite restaurant. Is it, perchance, a cinnamon dolce latte from Starbucks?

Whatever it is, choose something that feels celebratory to you.

The second step is to tell yourself that you will get the reward if you work for at least 5 minutes. Then set the timer.

Once 5 minutes is up, you can either continue working or move on to the reward. That’s it!

No matter how small, any progress is progress and should be celebrated as such. Reward yourself!

This technique is effective because it gets you out of your head. It forces you to put pen to paper, fingers to keys, brush to canvas, or any number of other creative endeavors. The 5-minute rule compels you to take action instead of lulling you into a false sense of action created by thinking.

And here’s a little-known secret about creativity. In most cases, work comes BEFORE inspiration. And I know we spent a ton of time talking about inspiration today. But the reality of it is that you’ll never feel inspired until you start creating.

You have to get out there, make mistakes, and create some genuinely terrible stuff before you have enough experience to be great. That’s how creativity works. No one gets to be amazing fresh out of the gate.

So don’t sweat it! Stop pressuring yourself. Have fun! Look for ways to fall in love with the journey instead of the destination. And if your interests change over the years, embrace the change. Create in whatever medium feels right to you at the moment.

The most important thing to remember is never to give up! The world needs your unique contribution.

It’s Your Turn

I hope this post inspired you to find new ways to overcome the proverbial creative funk. Take this opportunity to examine your life and figure out whether something more profound contributes to the block. Then work to resolve the issue.

And if there is nothing more profound, consider switching it up! Get out there and have some fun! Talk to new people, try a new hobby, or find a way to waste some time.

Do something that lights you up instead and feels exciting. And you never know where this one tiny step will lead.

Don’t forget to drop a comment below with your comments on this post. How do you overcome a creative funk?