For the last 22 weeks I have been working out at the gym at least 3 days a week- currently 4. Regular exercise had been a daily habit for me up until a few years ago when I allowed kids, career and life to become excuses not to go. It took a commitment, a friend going as well and making a few social connections at the gym to keep me going. I was perfectly comfortable in my daily habit of heading to the cafe, eating a pastry and working on web stuff every morning. No exercise other than playing gigs. I was starting to look and feel every day of my 48 years.
As a professional musician and performer appearance is just as important as playing well. The entertainment business is a youth – based business. It is also physically, mentally and emotionally challenging. Carrying gear, performing, employment/income uncertainty, unhealthy environments and unusual schedules can take a toll on a body, mind and spirit. Daily physical exercise can help to improve and maintain a high quality of life and is also essential to looking good on stage and in pictures and videos.
So here’s the point- I didn’t feel like going to the gym. So I didn’t. For 5 years. Even when I started to get a little belly- I still didn’t go. Even when my body started to get soft- I still didn’t go. Even when I started to feel the aches and pains of age- I still didn’t go. I knew that it would be a good idea but I refused to make it a priority. It was more comfortable to go to the cafe’ and work on my computer. It wasn’t like I was just sitting watching TV or messing around- I was getting work done.
Ironically a friend of mine who was a regular at the cafe’ challenged me to start going to the gym with him. Our workout time would be exactly the time that I would normally post up at the cafe’ with a pastry in hand and laptop ready to go. So I replaced the cafe’ in the morning habit with the going to the gym habit. Prior to about 5 years ago I was a regular exerciser for all of my adult life. Whether it was running, skating, lifting or whathaveyou I was always physically active. It was a habit and a lifestyle that I had gotten away from.
The gym is 13 miles from my house. That’s about as close as it gets where I live so getting there and back was going to be a major commitment of time and energy during a time when I am usually just comfortably working on the computer eating my morning pastry. It was going to be uncomfortable to work out. I was going to have to change my routine and displace a few habits. I was going to have to engage in challenging and uncomfortable physical exercise at least 3 days a week. When I could have been- should have been- working on the computer and enjoying a pastry with not even a hint of physical or psychic discomfort whatsoever.
My short-term goal was just to go and keep going. My longer-term goal was and still is to look and feel better. Here’s where the delayed gratification part comes in. Nothing of real value happens overnight. Even a hit song written in mere minutes is written in the context of someone who has been playing, studying and writing music for a number of years to get to the point where a good song will come out at all– much less that quickly. A qualification to that statement is that it’s important to work hard and smart. However, in order to progress from wherever we are we usually have to step outside our comfort zone and endure the discomfort until it become our new normal. Sometimes I wake up and I want to stay home but I don’t. Not only did I commit to the habit of going to the gym a few days because I knew that it would make me look and feel better IT ACTUALLY HAS! You see- I stepped outside of my comfort zone for the purpose of making progress and the progress that I’ve made vindicates the time, hard work and sacrifice that I have invested in regular exercise.
Another area of resistance for me has been performing live with my band Smokstik. It has been many years since I have actually done a real Smokstik set. I would attribute that partially to a lack of confidence in my skill to perform and partially a lack of confidence in the quality of the act and whether it’s worth pursuing. I originally moved away from Smokstik (and the Warr) because I lost confidence in the music that I was making. Playing “regular” guitar and bass opened up many other musical (and financial) opportunities for much less effort and I kind of drifted off in that direction. Over the years I still played the Warr, wrote and produced and even released some new Smokstik material and made a few feeble attempts at playing the tunes with drummers. I never even came close to where I was in 2002 when I was on top of my game with Smokstik.
So I played guitar and bass gigs. Taught guitar and bass. Tried to write songs on guitar and bass (none of which resonate with me at all) and pull the Warr out of the closet then put it back in it’s bag and put it back in the closet seemingly on a daily basis. On a number of occasions I have written material and tried with a guitar and bass then also with Warr Guitar Smokstik-style. In case you don’t know when I play the Warr Guitar I am the bass player, guitar player and keyboard player (as well as lead singer) at the same time. I can make sounds playing the Warr by myself that kind of eclipse what a standard bass and guitar do. For argument’s sake I would call the difference in approaches apples and oranges and from a listening perspective a matter of taste. However, from a personal and performance perspective it’s a whole different thing.
I have to admit that the songs and sounds that I make on the Warr resonate with me and they seem like MY voice whereas stuff that I play in guitar and bass doesn’t do much for me personally and always seems to sound like everyone else to me. On the tunes that I have done kind of split-testing on in that I use the same drums and vocals but guitar and bass then Warr I always like the Warr. I LIKE it. So I say to myself “If it sounds good it is good!”. Another fact is that when I record Warr stuff I ALWAYS write my parts as if I would be playing them live. There are no overdubs to thicken up the sound by adding other parts. Smokstik and my approach to the Warr is that what you hear is what it would sound like live. Every Smokstik song I ever released is like that. No trickery. All for real.
The habit of going back and forth with the Warr and Smokstik has put me in a creative rut in that I’m just playing cover gigs and sometimes playing other people’s original tunes while my stuff just sits in my studio at home. I believe that I have finally gotten to the point of frustration with myself and what I’ve been doing that I need to (actually must) endure the discomfort (in the form of feeling inadequate to accomplish the task- not the actual work) of rehearsing my tunes and performing them live. The proof of the potential in that endeavor is that I did indeed write and play all the parts to the songs that I have written, produced and released. I have actually confidently performed most of my catalog live on numerous occassions in the past. I’ve already done that. Over and over again. It’s just been a long time. My playing skill hasn’t really atrophied- it’s just that my confidence that atrophied.
I have given up too soon on countless attempts to revive Smokstik over the years. It has always been my lack of confidence that caused my discomfort and that I allowed to derail my efforts. Unlike going to the gym I felt like I would never get there. So what’s the use? But I’ve already been there! I never quit playing- I just quit playing live like I used to. I never stopped writing and I actually believe that my writing has evolved over the years. I really like some of the new stuff that I’ve done and I would like to hear what it would sound like live. I actually tend to add a bit to the live performances so that would add a whole other element to some of these other tunes. In this case my discomfort is psychic. The physical effort required doesn’t bother me but I’m having a hard time believing in the payoff. I don’t believe that I have the capacity to succeed with the Warr Guitar.
It’s funny because I have no doubt that going to the gym will make me look and feel better yet I feel nothing but doubt that I can master a live set of Smokstik material. Even though I did it before. Apparently my brain is a far greater adversary to my making progress than the real physical discomfort of going to the gym and doing strenuous activities on a regular basis. The idea of Smokstik and playing Warr are always with me so no matter how many times I put that thing in the closet I always give it another chance the next day. However, I am getting so hungry to get out and perform my own material and sing my own words that maybe that desire will help to fuel my fire to overcome my own crippling self-doubt. I’ve tried writing more stuff on bass and guitar and it just doesn’t work for me. It’s not bad per se- it just isn’t me.
I suppose the fear that can go with delayed gratification is that no gratification will ever come. If I don’t eat this yummy donut will my belly get smaller? How many yummy donuts must I not eat to get rid of my belly? Will I always crave yummy donuts even if I manage to avoid them long enough to get rid of my belly? I think what’s missing is the transformation that can take place along the path of pursuing a goal. As those distracting thoughts fade away they are (in some ways unconsciously) being replaced with more productive habits, tastes, activities and so forth. Though I’m not performing live on the Warr right now and I don’t feel confident doing so what about when I am or as I get more confident? Since I started working out I have gradually let go of a number of habits that were not helping me to look and feel better. I’m eating better and I’m actually nurturing myself more because the results from lifting come when you rest– not when you are working. That recovery period is when growth occurs. I’m not where I want to be yet physically but the progress that I’ve made just inspires me to want to make more progress. Perhaps I can find ways to reinforce my efforts in getting my Smokstik chops together as I pursue my ultimate goal which is to be able to confidently perform my Warr Guitar material live.
Writing this post has forced me to think about what my REAL issue is with the Warr Guitar vs everything else dilemma. I believe that like my lack of desire to be physically uncomfortable exercising I have a lack of desire to be psychically uncomfortable in risking injury to my ego pursuing Smokstik. I suppose that outlining my possible solutions to overcoming my fear and lack of confidence could be a whole other post so it will be.
So in conclusion- in order to make progress we need to face discomfort- be it physical, psychic or both. If you need incentives and support in achieving your goal seek it out. Identify micro goals and celebrate accomplishing them as you pursue your greater goal. Find supporters and like minds to help buoy your spirit. Find inspiration and motivation from other successful people and from your own past efforts and successes. In short- make a goal, make a plan, get to work and don’t give up until you get there. Carpe diem!!!