I recently came across a post in a producer group that spurred this entire topic.

I’m still learning how to bring my pace up to where it’s not so tedious. I’m getting there though. I finally understand the basics of Ableton so that’s surely a start. When I first got it, dude, I wanted to pull my hair out.  Like, I had no one to teach me and I tried to watch youtube videos, but they may as well have been in Chinese. Little by little, I spaced it out a bit more, and started playing around and it’s kind of just started making sense. I’m still working at transitions, layering, and finishing a full song. My biggest issue is finding the balance between messing with sounds and not spending lots of time on it. But then again that’s part of the learning process I suppose.

JOSH S.

Music Producer, Via Producer Dojo on Facebook

This topic spurred a maelstrom of comments.  It’s not particularly outstanding, but what is outstanding is taking a step back, and realizing just how many people are facing struggles across many groups and social circles.  When it’s such a struggle to learn that even trying to learn is an incredible demotivator; how can you overcome that?

Perhaps the most crucial is to pay attention to how you treat yourself.  In this modern world, more than ever before, we are all bombarded with social pressure and engineering.  The best way I can suggest going about this is to check your attitude towards yourself: attitude is everything.

Muscle Memory

Think of it this way.  No matter what goal you set for yourself, there will likely be ambitions that are bigger than you are already doing now.  This means you must grow into them.  If you pick things that challenge you, that’s great!  The more challenging it is, the more likely it will be that you fail.  This is where most people give up; far too early.

Like anything in life, we all must build muscle memory.  Whatever you set out to do that you have not done before will feel awkward, tedious, and be a struggle.  Muscle memory is about putting in the time to build that mind-body connection.  The more you work at it, the more fluid it becomes until the process between thinking and acting are more instinctual, and you don’t have to consciously think about it. How does that relate to creative endeavors?

Emotional encoding

Attitude isn’t just about being motivated to do work.  Motivation is fleeting, it will come and go.  Discipline, however, is learning to overcome the lack of motivation and stick with something even when you’re not in the mood to do it; and discipline is a form of muscle memory.  That can be hard to accomplish when we as creatives run into mental blocks, blind spots that we ourselves cannot identify, and perceived barriers that feel utterly defeating.  What causes this?

As you learn and absorb new information, your emotional state is also being absorbed with it, subconsciously.  This means that if you are setting out to learn a new skill, and the process is stressful, you are teaching yourself that performing this skill is going to be stressful.   This is a negative feedback loop. Over time, if you find that just thinking about the task at hand you’ve learned under stress causes you anxiety or stress, you will likely start finding excuses for yourself to avoid doing it.  That’s a natural biological response to defend ourselves from undergoing stress our subconscious mind knows it can evade.

Emotional Encoding (See Wikipedia for more information) can work in the opposite fashion, too.  If we can change our perception of the task-at-hand to a positive one, and elevate our mood, our elevated mood will get encoded with the task as well.  Over time, this can help reverse that anxiety you might be associating with it.

Unlearning negative perception

Even at the subconscious level, your biology dislikes stress.  Those skills you’ve emotionally encoded to perceive as stressful can be powerful demotivators for getting work you truly may want to get done.  Now, not only are you fighting the learning process (building your muscle memory), or the process of activating on an idea, need, or desire to achieve a goal, but you’re fighting your own negative mental perception that has been subconsciously attached to that task.  How, then, do we unlearn this negative perception?

There are a few ways, but the most obvious (though easier said than done) is to develop a warm-up routine.  Now, by warm-up, I don’t mean doing stretches or jogging or something physical, although if you find those things enjoyable there’s absolutely nothing wrong with adopting those as warm-up routines.  Think of things you enjoy that elevate your mood and get you distracted from the seriousness of a goal or expectation.  Laughter is especially helpful!

Some common mood elevators:

  • Physical activity: boosts your endorphins, elevates your heart rate and supplies oxygen to the body & the brain. This can also lead to a temporary boost in cognitive ability.
  • Meditation: often found to calm, relax, and reach a better state of mental & emotional clarity.
  • Engaging activities: Basically, any life experience that you enjoy will enhance your emotional and mental state.

Maybe, for you, that’s watching stand-up comedy for 5 minutes, or telling someone nearby a joke…  Or, simply just diving into the world of cat videos on Youtube.  Be silly, get into the carefree attitude, and then set yourself upon the tasks at hand.

Practice in expectation-free environments

Allow yourself to enjoy the journey of learning along the way.  Schedule practice sessions for yourself where you can experiment. Play without an expectation of some finished product or goal you are reaching for.  Give yourself permission to not care about the result, and free yourself to enjoy the process of learning and experimenting.  Doing so will decouple the negative emotional states that might quickly settle into your work when you carry an expectation in our head of how it should be going.

Search for Awe

It has been said that “awe” is a mental state that is so intense, the experience of awe is one of the quickest and most profound ways to experience enlightenment.  When someone or something forces us to realize the universe works in a way that we never conceived or considered, we experience this sense of awe.  This causes our neural network to change and adapt, creating new pathways.  This, in turn, allows us to be more open to adaptation.

You can apply this to learning a skill, or your goals, if you actively change your intentions away from tangible achievements and instead search for those moments of awe, especially during practice!  Of course, there will be times you must be productive, but the groundwork you lay during practice will allow you to be more effective and efficient when it comes to actual productivity.

Conclusion

It all starts with developing a sense of self-awareness.  If you can take a moment to reflect on the fact that you are getting frustrated with something, stopping and asking why is a crucial component to being able to correct-course.  Once you have this tool down, you can utilize these tools to overcome your own struggles more easily and enter the coveted “Flowstate”.

  1. Remember that discipline is a form of muscle memory.
  2. Create your own warm-up routine to elevate your mood.
  3. Schedule time to practice in expectation-free environments.
  4. Search for awe.

I know this has already started transforming my life.  I hope this helps you overcome your struggles.  What are you struggling with, or how did you overcome your struggles if you’ve found a way that was different from what I’ve mentioned above?  Please leave a comment below, and happy producing!

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