This summer I’m having some of my students use their freer vacation schedule to increase the length of their daily practice sessions. While some are working up to just an hour a day, others have challenged themselves to put in two. Over the next few months they will build the habit of longer daily practice sessions and the strength of this habit will help them practice better and more consistently when their schedules are full of marching band rehearsals, homework, sports and clubs.
If you don’t already have a daily practice habit you may want to start with a short increment, such as 15 minutes a day, every day. It’s easier to form a habit when you start small and focus of celebrating consistency. The amount of time can be increased incrementally, adding 15 minutes a week for example, until a reasonable amount of time has been reached. Then, of course, you can work on other goals, like increasing the efficacy of your practice sessions.
According to conventional wisdom it takes 21 days to form a habit. While this is true for easy single step tasks, like making your bed first thing in the morning, more complicated tasks take more time. However, a 21 day streak is a great first goal. Create a chart to keep track of how many days in a row you’ve practiced. Keeping up a long streak can be enough motivation to get you going when you don’t feel motivated to do the practicing itself.
Protect your practice time by doing it at the same time each day. You may even consider practicing first thing in morning, even if that means getting up early. According to Laura Vanderkam, author of What the Most Successful People Do Before Breakfast, “If it has to happen, it has to happen first.” This isn’t possible in all situations but there’s nothing like starting your day with the most time consuming part of your to do list already completed.
Make sure that you set small goals and reward yourself for reaching them. When your small goals add up to something big, like a 100 day practicing streak, reward yourself big. A mom in my studio uses a calendar and a treasure box to motivate her young flutists. Each month’s calendar has randomly marked days. If the student practices that day he gets to choose a prize from the treasure box.
The best thing of habits is that they happen automatically. When’s the last time you struggled to get yourself to brush your teeth or buckle your seatbelt? These are automatic behaviors. The best part of practicing consistently is the progress you make and the skills you develop. The biggest reward will be returning to school in better shape than you left it.