I was at a big client meeting last week and, as part of the icebreaker, we were all asked to reveal something about ourselves that the others didn't already know. There were champion Irish dancers, American Idol auditionees, triathletes and several musicians. Some accomplished, some picking up instruments they learned in school and some brand new to the discipline of learning to play. That's me. About 16 months ago I finally decided to fulfill one of my long time ambitions which has been to learn to play the drums.
Worried about becoming that guy with all the gear and no idea, I bought myself a $199 electric drum kit for Christmas (on the day it was officially given to me by the dog, Cosmo) and spent the next few months making anything but music. Just 'noise' would be a more accurate description. Frustrated by my lack of progress, I hit that critical point where a piece of kit lurches towards being one of the dust-gathering props in the basement. But fueled by the fear of the 'told you so' brigade, I went the other way and booked myself a lesson.
The big day came and my teacher asked me to just start playing to a basic tempo on the metronome. Encouraged by his head nodding and foot tapping I thrashed away like Animal from the Muppets until he abruptly brought my performance to a halt. He told me I had two options. Either I could carry on with what I had learned by myself and he could provide some tips and guidance. Or I could learn to play the drums properly. Ouch.
But I really did want to learn the instrument so we started from scratch. Slow, slower and then slower again until the patterns started to stick. At the end of the first lesson something profound struck me. I had been so intensely focused on the job in hand that my mind was incredibly clear. It took about half an hour for the rest of the usual noise in my head to come rolling back in to my conscious. With each lesson the same thing happened. I lost myself in the teaching and technical practice and I enjoyed at least 90 minutes of mental respite.
Then another thing struck me. When I did refocus on 'everything else' I had a better perspective on some things I had been wrestling with. It's as if the back of mind space, created by pulling all my attention to the very forefront of my mind, had enabled passive processing of information and thoughts, such that I could see a clearer path to resolution of some of the usual stresses we all face. In fact, some niggling thoughts seemed to have been fully and properly filed away.
I have now understood the real importance of having some points during the week where you force yourself into intense and complete front of mind focus. Learning an instrument, riding a bike, preparing a meal, painting a canvas. I encourage you all to ensure that you have something lined up to play this role for you in the coming week, and every week thereafter. Give your brain some space to process and file things away and enjoy the exquisite luxury of concentrating on one thing only in this world of terminal interruption. I look forward to hearing how you get on.
And for me the learning continues. I upgraded my kit but still didn't make it out of the basement. Here's a quick excerpt of me in my own drumming zone! I hope you like Led Zeppelin...