Unrealistic Expectations

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Fotolia_62939386_XS_thumb.jpgIt’s not the first time I’ve done this, and it probably won’t be the last, but it caught me by surprise again.

I have been slacking off lately when it comes to exercising. I’m too busy or my day is too hectic or I can’t get up early enough. And the exercise strategy I’ve been using for years just wasn’t motivating me to get up and get it done.

But getting into shape and making exercise a regular habit is one of my goals for this year, and a couple of months ago I decided to make it happen. I subscribed to an online exercise website called Daily Burn. For just $13 a month, I have access to over a dozen different exercise programs at all levels. I signed up, got out my yoga mat and was ready to go.

I was eager to get started but because I have gained some wisdom along with the inches on my waistline, I began with a beginner program. It was perfect, a great way to get back into the routine without breaking anything. So that’s when I did it. I upgraded.

Obviously, I thought, I wasn’t too out of shape because the beginner program was so easy. Maybe my karate training from all those years ago was still having an effect. So I went for a more ambitious program. I figured that I would start with the easy level of that program, and by the end of the month I could be up at Level 3, or Level 2 for sure. I knew I had misjudged things when I couldn’t walk for two days after the first workout. Even after several workouts over the course of a couple of weeks, I was still sore. That’s when I knew I had done it again – I was operating with unrealistic expectations.

Unrealistic expectations can be a source of a lot of frustration. They force us to look at things the way they are, rather than the way we would like them to be. When that happens, it’s like hitting a brick wall. If you’re lucky, you will just stub your toe, but you may end up with a broken nose.

When we as musicians have unrealistic expectations, the results can be just as painful. When it looks as though we may never finish that piece that we started, we begin to lose hope. And hopelessness creeps into our practice, making our work less effective and much less enjoyable. A standard and not un-useful tactic is to “put the piece away for another time.” That’s a reasonable strategy. Clearly we need more work on technical or musical skills to be able to play the piece the way we want and the way it deserves. But it doesn’t make us feel any better. And if that happens repeatedly, we start to think about giving up.

What’s the remedy for unrealistic expectations? How do you prevent them from stopping you in your tracks?

I believe the only real solution is a second opinion. If you’re not making the progress you expected, or if you can’t seem to make any headway at all, you need the help and advice of a teacher, mentor or trusted and knowledgeable colleague. Sometimes we can’t see the obstacles in our path, where a teacher can not only see exactly where the obstacle is, but show us how to remove it as well.

Even more important, your teacher will help you keep frustration at bay, and will find ways for you to succeed, whether it’s with that piece of music or a different one. And you can trust your teacher to push you appropriately to do more than you thought you could, just like a trainer at the gym can push you a little farther than you would have pushed yourself, but still keep you safe.

How is my exercise going? I am now contenting myself with trying to complete the easiest level of the more difficult workout, a goal I expect to actually achieve. Someday.

How can you adjust your expectations?

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  • rob stone

    In one of his films, Woody Allen addresses the audience and says, and I paraphrase, “this is why people write books and make films”, because they can make happy outcomes, have storybook endings”. But we all know that life happens unpredictably and you can’t control all events!


  • Cathy

    My yoga teacher tells us, “The easy way is hard enough.” I’m using that mantra at the harp every day!


  • Tara

    I don’t have a teacher at the moment so all the pushing and gentle shoving has to come from me. its hard to find the balance of practicing the correct amount. I tend to avoid what I struggle with in my practice.


    • Anne

      You’re not alone on that one, Tara. Just take it one day at a time – do a little bit of the hard stuff at the beginning of your practice session and then move on to the easier stuff.


  • Lorna Ota

    Hi Anne, Thanks so much for the reminder(s) about unrealistic expectations. So I’ll try not to go beyond my capacity or top choices in harp music at first; it’ll lessen my frustrations and time. I can spend the same amount of effort on a lovely but simpler piece with much passion, vitality, finesse and quality technique, etc. I’m making a new pledge with myself to start being honest by practicing reading music fluidly and working on the technique exercises…daily! I’m tired of digging deep, empty holes and wasting precious time. Your insights remind me of some things I was told long ago, and I need to refresh my whole music-learning attitude…NOW!

    I also want to tell you that your going over little things like finger or body part problems and movements, or rhythm and music beats, etc. makes me aware of my techniques and thoughts and all things related to being a fluent harpist…no matter what category: beginner, intermediate, or advanced.


    • Anne

      You are on the right track, Lorna. Even professional harpists need to remind themselves that the most important thing is to enjoy their playing. Frustration always makes itself heard to the audience in the same way that love for the music does. Releasing some of the pressure we put on ourselves to do more and better is not only a welcome personal relief, but a good musical decision too!


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