The month of January is named after the ancient Roman god Janus who is depicted as having two faces on a single head: one looking backwards to the past and one towards the future. What I find interesting is that Janus was assigned to doorways, gates, and passages of all kinds. He is a kind of watchman for movement, transition, and change.
Perhaps this is why people feel the need to take stock of their past year or make resolutions for the coming one. It gives us a feeling of propulsion. We hope that if we can muster the momentum from our ideals, the projects already accomplished or goals not yet reached, that this will turn into inertia that we may ride through the peaks and valleys of the new year. Inevitably, however, we hit a wall. The thought of six-pack abs don’t quite seem to inspire us as much as they used to. Gym sessions get less frequent while trips to the fridge do not. The ideal is replaced by reality: the wish satisfies the mind but does not sustain the body or the spirit.
This leads me to the single most important lesson I learned from preparing for my M. M. degree recital. Traditionally speaking, I have had a love-hate relationship with practicing, which to be honest, was mostly a hate relationship. Practicing was always a requirement, an obligation, always “work”. No twenty-four hour period was complete without it and from the pre-dawn to the after dark, my days were planed around the sacred and profane hours I would spend with my cello.
Finally, after half a year’s preparation, it was over. In the hours following the performance of the program I felt feelings of satisfaction, accomplishment, and oddly enough, anticipation. This anticipation wasn’t so much anxiety as it was the excitement of “what’s next?” It was at this moment that I realized something. I didn’t hate practicing. I didn’t hate work. That doesn’t necessarily mean that I liked it. But I did need it. It didn’t bring me happiness because happiness is too ephemeral. It brought me fulfillment, fulfillment that only comes through sacrifice, adversity, and challenge.
This allows me to reframe my former statement: the wish satisfies the mind but the only thing that sustains the body and spirit is hard work. Propulsion is a daily practice that we reaffirm every day. In order to get over the mental block of being tired, complacent, or just plain lazy, I apply the following rule.*
The Rule of Fifteen Minutes: When you don’t “feel like it” for whatever reason, just do it for fifteen minutes. If after fifteen minutes you hate it, then stop and move on to something else.
However, once you’re over the initial psychological hump, there is a good chance you won’t stop. The mind with its short attention span and tendency to cry out with little ego-ridden toddler statements (“I don’t want to”, “I’m tired”, etc.) is satisfied by short-term gains. In the big picture of things, there is nothing wrong with this because short-term gains bring us happiness and without a bit of sugar, the medicine is bitter so to speak. However, where as happiness is the quick sprint, fulfillment is the marathon. Working on the most challenging projects in our personal and professional lives is what endures.
I would like to wish a Happy New Year to everyone and best wishes for all of your endeavors!
*I cannot claim originality to the Rule of Fifteen Minutes. My friend Katherine had it on Facebook and the original can be found here in the context of long-distance running: http://runhaven.com/2014/12/01/15-minute-rule/