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Play On: How to Find Perseverance Among Losses

When the losses start piling up, keep playing by tapping into mindfulness practices. 

I can't believe I'm going to write this - a sports analogy as I write about music! But here it goes or as the crowd chants during a basketball game, “Here we go! {clap, clap}”

A Sports Analogy

Over the past couple of years - especially this year - I've become a bit of a Boston Celtics fan. I watch every game I can and track games on my phone when I can't. I know the majority of the names of the team players and some of their positions, am aware of who is on the injured list before a game and notice when they get haircuts. (Looking good Luke Kornet!) I even know what a triple-double is. Me!?  Right!?   

Watching sports is new to me - but what isn't new to me is an appreciation for the attitude of perseverance and hard work ethic that is present in the Boston Celtics team. The dedication to practicing, exerting effort over and over, and accepting both wins and losses has been an integral part of my life as a musician and life sojourner. 

Recently Coach Mazzulla addressed the topic of entitlement after a heartbreaking loss to the Lakers on February 1, 2024. In his comment, he was referencing the idea that fans and players, after so much recent success, almost expect to win and are disappointed with a loss. 

He said, "[We] think at times that we're just supposed to be winning all the time, and it's just not the case. We have to stay the course. Sometimes you can be losing because you're playing good basketball– it's just the result isn't being achieved. We just have to continue to play. It's really important."

Boston Celtics Coach Mazzulla in green Celtics shirt coaching a game

Finding Perseverance

What he said, I believe, applies to the musical journey of gaining mastery of an instrument and learning the art of performing. For most of us musicians, we play music for the love of the art form and not for the love of money. We are in it for the long haul. Not every practice session or performance will be a “win”- but over the course of our musical journey, we can achieve the results we desire. I often witness students feeling frustrated during their lessons because they don't perform for me as well as they did during their practice sessions or because it is taking longer to see the advancement of their skills than they prefer. 

My response is usually the same as Coach Mazzulla’s, “We just have to continue to play." 

I’ve adopted this philosophy many times in recent years, both as a musician and as a human. Two weeks ago, I sat at my piano to record a piece of music I had been learning with the intent to share it on YouTube. Almost as soon as I began, my fingers felt like concrete, unable to dance upon the keys as they do during my practice sessions. As the frustration built up, I heard myself saying out loud to myself, “And you call yourself a musician?” 

I took a breath, stood up, shook it out, and then tried again. This time with success.

Author and Piano Teacher, Catherine Sipher practicing piano

Developing New Skills Takes Time

Developing a skill, creating new ways of thinking, establishing new neural pathways in the brain, and establishing new kinds of muscle memory takes time. Lots of it!

With my current practice time availability at a minimum, I shouldn’t be surprised to flub my performances. When nerves pop up, it often seems that the effort I put into practicing evaporates under the heat of the ring light. I rarely have time to “anxiety-proof” my repertoire these days. And that’s okay!  I’m in a different season of life as a musician than I once was. Now I play purely for the joy of it. 

It's been said it takes 10,000 hours of practice to develop mastery of a skill. I will add - even at that, the great masters of any field are continually growing, refining, exploring, improving, and gaining new insights, abilities, thought processes, or creations. In effect, the work is never done

In music, sports, and life, we are never truly “there” - wherever " there" is (but that's a post for another time).

Stay the Course

We have to “stay the course.” As with most areas of personal growth, there will be highs and lows, wins and losses, steps forward and steps backward. Those hills and valleys don't matter as much as the overarching patterns we see in our lives– especially as it pertains to gaining new skills, as long as we open ourselves to being willing to learn from the full range of life’s experiences. 

If you are feeling discouraged in your musical journey or personal journey, take these sentiments to heart: trust the process, enjoy the journey, and, as Coach Mazzulla said, “Continue to play; it’s really important.”

Scrabble tiles spelling the words pause, rest, but, never, give, up

Tips on Finding Perseverance Among Losses

1.Celebrate your wins.  

The best way to counteract discouragement and promote an attitude of perseverance is to keep a positive mindset. Celebrating your wins, no matter how small, provides the motivation to keep going. 

2. Expect backsteps.

Backsteps are a part of the dance of life. Two steps forward, one step back. When we anticipate and even expect them, we don’t lose our balance and are able to keep moving with the flow.  

3. Stay intentional.

Develop and maintain habits and rituals that keep you moving toward your long-term goal. Keep that appointment with yourself.  Make a manageable to-do list.  Move methodically and mindfully.  Doing so will keep you on track even when your willpower is waning.    

4. Recall your “why.” 

When facing losses, the desire to give up can set in. Keeping in mind the reason behind your goals will keep you motivated far behind the actual target itself.  

Food for Thought:

Where is one area of your life where you have seen discouragement creep into your thinking as you pursue a new skill or growth pattern?

Envision what it would feel like to find perseverance among the losses. 

How can you change the narrative you are telling yourself about your losses, begin to celebrate the wins that are present, and trust the process of growth?

I encourage you to put that mindfulness into practice. If you are anything like me, with a predisposition to see losses everywhere, there will be an opportunity before you know it to rewrite the narrative and continue to play on!


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