In the 1994 movie ‘Forrest Gump’ there’s a scene where Forrest is running and steps in dog crap. Someone asks him if he knows that he’s stepped in dog crap and Forrest replies: ‘It happens.’ The guy says: ‘What, shit’ and the movie makers cleverly cross cut to a truck with a bumper sticker that says ‘Shit Happens’ that’s just about to get blindsided at an intersection by another vehicle.
What’s That Got To Do With Playing The Bass?
Back in the day before I taught online lessons and I had face to face students, one of the areas I tried to work with them was in the designing of a practice routine, and turning that routine into a habit.
Part of what I would ask the student to do was to have a daily log of their practice. Which was kept in analog form – this being the early 90s and computers not being so widely available or used.
Commonly I’d find students who’d only practiced 3 times a week instead of the 5 or 6 I was asking them to do. Typical excuses were:
My friend came in from out of town and we went out for a drink/to see a band/to see a film.
There was something great on the TV and I watched that instead.
My dog got sick and I had to go to the vet.
In short, what they were really saying was this: Shit Happens.
So What Does Shit Happens Mean?
It’s a simply phrase that people use to describe random stuff that just happens. And you know what – in all of our lives random stuff happens. One of our kids gets sick. Or a friend’s computer goes down and you’re his ‘go-to’ guy for fixing. We get a flat tyre and have to spend an hour changing it.
These random events happen all of the time. And unless they’re extremely clever, when people study their time and what they spend it on they never factor any time in for random events. So when shit happens and takes an hour of their time, or two hours of their time, suddenly the time they’ve allocated for practicing disappears.
A good friend of mine calls this ‘Chaos Time.’ And he’s one of the few guys I know who factors it into all of his time calculations.
How Can You Factor In ‘Chaos Time?
If you know you’ve got to practice for an hour today, make a time plan of what you’ve got to do and find a TWO hour window for your practice. That way if something crops up you’ve got some spare time to play with.
There’s also an additional bonus in that if nothing comes up you can either spend some time doing additional practice (if you want to feel really virtuous) or you can spend that time listening to some inspiring music, or watching Victor Wooten’s Groove Workshop DVD for the 10th time.
I’ve Only Got One 60 Minute Window For Practice Today. What Do I Do If Something Crops Up?
In this scenario you have to ruthlessly prioritise. If the something that comes up is social (eg a gig, meeting friends, going to the Cinema or a game) take a raincheck. Tell your friends you can’t make it and do your practice.
If the event that crops up is something you can’t put off and you have to do it, then you have to do it. If it’s a one off often I make up the bulk of the time by practicing once the random event has been dealt with, and just staying up later. (If you find yourself doing this regularly make sure you’ve got strong coffee in the house for the next day).
This is not the most effective way to practice though (end of the day, fatigue levels up, concentration levels down), and if you find that this is something that is happening regularly – say a couple of times a week or more – then there’s a simple change you can make to your practice schedule that will turn things round.
What Is This Simple Change?
What you do is this: say you practice an hour a day. Set your alarm for 70 minutes before you’d normally get up and get up early and get your practice done then. (The extra 10 minutes is a bit of ‘chaos time’ so you can clean your teeth, brew coffee, etc etc).
If you can do this, then it won’t matter what random events are thrown at you – BECAUSE you’ve already done your practice for the day.
Two quick tips for you if you try this: don’t check your emails or turn your phone on until AFTER you’ve finished your practice. No-one will expect you to be awake anyway, so anything that needs dealing with can be dealt with WHEN you’ve finished your practice and not before.
Why Is Dealing With Random Events Important?
Being able to effectively deal with the random events life throws at us will allow us to maintain our practice schedules. And studies now show that one of the factors that successful people in many different areas have is that they practice consistently.
The way you approach your practice when life throws up unexpected events also teaches your brain how important you consider your regular practice sessions.
The next time you watch Forrest Gump watch out for the ‘shit happens’ sequence (it’s about two thirds of the way through the movie). Does Forrest let it put him off his stride? Nope. Does Forrest keep on running? Yes.
That’s a good lesson right there. When shit happens the amateur stops and cleans it up. The professional just carries right on and works around it. Shit happens. The way you deal with it will say a lot about how successful or otherwise you’ll be in your goal to becoming a better bass player.