What do you do every night before you go to bed? And every day when you wake up. Some of us even do it in the middle of the day too. And I even do it on nights when I’ve had a Guiness or two with my friends, or been out on a gig and got in at 4 in the morning and I’m so tired that my vision starts to blur.
We clean our teeth.
Why do we clean our teeth so regularly?
We clean our teeth twice a day, or three times a day, because it’s a habit. It’s something our parents forced us to do when we were young. Before we went to bed: ‘Go and clean your teeth.’ In the morning when we woke up: ‘Go and clean your teeth.’
And we’ve done it so regularly that it’s become a habit.
Cleaning teeth? Playing da bass? What’s the connection?
Well, if we want to get better at the bass we know we’ve got to practice, right? And if we’re honest with ourselves we know we’ve got to practice regularly too.
And the best way of ensuring that we practice regularly is to make practicing the bass a habit. So that it doesn’t matter if the thought of practicing leaves us cold, or a friend calls and he’s got tickets to the game, or there’s a great show on TV.
If you’ve truly got the habit you’ll practice irrespective of how you feel about it, you’ll tell your friend that you either can’t go or you’ll have to meet him there later, and for the TV there’s Skyplus (TIVO I think you call it in the US).
So how do you make practicing a habit?
I’d love to tell you there was a guy on the corner of Main Street in the shady part of town who sells 30 minute sachets of ‘habit’ in little plastic baggies. But instead what you’re going to have to do is a bit of work.
The first thing I want to tell you though is that acquiring a habit is something YOU can do. You’ve already done it. You clean your teeth twice (or three) times a day, right? And you’ve got other habits too (wearing a seatbelt when you drive, checking your front door is double locked when you leave the house, turning your cell phone off when you go to bed and/or putting it onto charge, etc etc).
The second thing you need to know is that there is a body of psychological evidence that says you can ‘train yourself’ to acquire a habit in a relatively short period of time (21-30 days).
So knowing that you can acquire a habit, and that you can do it in around 30 days, what you need to do is follow The Habit Plan.
What’s The Habit Plan?
It’s a plan I devised for myself when I started playing the bass again in 2006 after a period of about 6 or 7 years where I barely played the bass at all (I call that period my ‘wilderness’ years).
My original goal was to practice for 90 minutes a day for 5 days a week. (I know, daily practice is best. But I’ve got two young kids….they won’t be young for ever, so I don’t practice on the weekend).
I split the Habit Plan into three parts.
Part One was simple. I made myself a wall chart for the next six weeks (6 weeks x 5 days a week = 30 days). For each day I practiced 30 minutes I drew a red line leading to the next day. And my mantra became: Don’t Break The Red Line (by missing a day).
Just so you know the first time I attempted this I failed, partly because I was ill and partly because one of my kids was ill. But according to the rules I’d defined it was a failure – so I printed another chart and started again.
This time I got to 30 days without Breaking the Red Line. So it was time for Part 2. I printed another wall chart – again for six weeks. This time I had to practice for an hour to draw a ‘red line.’
When I’d completed this – which took THREE attempts, each failed time making me go back to the beginning – I printed the last wall chart. Again this was for 6 weeks – but for Part 3 of the plan I had to practice for 90 minutes before I would allow myself to draw in the desired ‘red line.’
Part Three was completed on the first attempt. At the end of which I’d been practicing regularly for around 6 to 7 months and the ‘habit’ of practice had become firmly engrained.
How do I make a Habit Plan for Myself?
The first thing you need is realistically assess how many times you want to practice. And then assess how much time you want to spend. Then divide that time by at least 3, so that your first goal becomes something like:
Practice 4 or 5 times a week. For 20 minutes.
When you’ve successfully completed a red line for 30 days on that, then move onto 40 minutes. And then onto your desired 60 minutes. By the time you’ve finished Part 3 you’ll be well on your way to acquiring a really solid habit that will last you a lifetime if you cultivate it.
What happens if I miss a day?
If you miss a day during your Habit Plan and you break the red line, there’s no excuses you have to go back to the start. Whilst you’re trying to acquire the habit in the first place you have to adopt a zero tolerance policy.
But once you’ve achieved your final goal, and completed a red line that spans at least 30 days, then I’d say that you can cut yourself a little slack. Sometimes things will come up that you just don’t want to miss – and you’ll have to sacrifice some practice time to do them.
I keep a log of these things – and if I fall below what I consider acceptable then I print out one of my charts and go strict for 30 days . Just so you know, what I consider unacceptable is if I miss 2 practice sessions in any consecutive15 practice days.
Brush twice, practice once
The Habit Plan is a relatively easy way to acquire a good practice habit – and maintain it – which will help you in your journey to becoming a better bass player.
Remember that you brush your teeth twice a day – which if you think about it you’ll find is a nearly unbreakable habit. You can make practicing the bass just as much of a habit.
To truly make use of your new found habit you need a system that maximizes your practice time so that you are constantly improving. The only system I know that is designed to do this is Deliberate Practice.