Why I’d Rather Clean the Toilet Than Practice (Some Thoughts on Priorities)

After my cold-of-doom which inspired the post a few weeks ago, I have been slowly building back to my normal routine. Or, possibly, a new and improved normal routine. When you get a cold that results in taking steroids for your asthma, it makes you reconsider what is important in your schedule and how you can prevent yourself from having to repeat the experience. I’m try to focus more on the important things, and worry less about the urgent, but not important things – the things I can let go.

One of the things which is important to me is music (duh!). I want to make more time for practice, but it always seems to drift down to the bottom of my list, somewhere below cleaning the toilet and taking out the bins. The question is, why is that? Why don’t I value my practice time more highly, so it’s at the top of my list?

As I began to think about this, I had a startling revelation: what if I don’t practice regularly because it’s too much like having fun.

Image by poison-yvi at freeimages.com

Image by poison-yvi at freeimages.com

See, my to do list is usually arranged so that the “horrible, but necessary” tasks are higher up the list than the “fun, frivolous” tasks. Doing the washing up comes higher than watching the latest episode of my favourite TV show. Calling the utility company comes higher up than calling my mum.

If practicing is so onerous, and so much something I don’t want to do, why doesn’t it come higher up the list? If it’s so hard to practice, and so boring, why will I take out food waste before I’ll sit down at the piano? Perhaps it’s because I actually like practicing!

Maybe sometimes I’m not practicing for the same reason I don’t eat chocolate every day – I don’t think I should be allowed. But, here’s the secret. Practicing isn’t like chocolate. It’s much more like eating a rich, ripe peach – sweet and juicy and it shouldn’t be good for you, but it is! Eating a whole punnet of strawberries seems luxurious, but I bet most doctors would rather we did that every day than eat so much ice cream, or even pasta.

We can get so busy doing other things – the things which feel urgent, or which seem pressing. It can be easy to say that music practice doesn’t matter because it’s fun – it’s a thing we do for pleasure. But can we really say that because something is pleasurable, it’s not important? Music boosts intelligence and memory, it calms our minds, it releases hormones that make us feel happy. Aren’t these things worth something?

Hands Play the Piano - an image from Robert Couse-Baker on flickr

Image from Robert Couse-Baker on flickr

Surely, the things at the top of our to do lists should be the things that make us alive. At the top of our lists should be the things that make life worth living. Yes, we need to clean so we don’t die of food poisoning, but that isn’t why we let all the pleasurable things slip down the list. We let them slip because we worry that we aren’t good enough – our house isn’t clean enough, our inbox is too full, work is left undone. We worry we’re letting others down, and we’re trained not to put ourselves first.

And yet. Will we really call our lives a life worth lived if we hit “Inbox Zero” every day, but at the cost of the things we enjoy?

Perhaps it’s time to reconsider how you manage your to do list (be it real or imaginary). Perhaps it’s time to say it’s ok to do the things that give us pleasure. Perhaps, it’s time to let music practice come before the washing up from time to time. I know which one I’d rather be doing!

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