Uncomfortable, or just unfamiliar?

Maybe you're already doing everything right.  But if you're not, then becoming a great player involves doing things in new ways.  It sounds simple, and it is.  But the experience of actually doing something in a genuinely new way can be really, really, really, really, really (really really really) uncomfortable. 

Some of the discomfort will always be there, but in this post we’ll talk about how to not make it worse.  We might even make it better!

Consider these two words:

  • Unfamiliar
  • Uncomfortable

I know you know what these words mean--I'm not interested in that.  Take ten seconds or so to experience each one, and notice how they're alike.

Now notice how they’re different.

If you picture them like a Venn Diagram, there’s a lot of overlap, but they aren’t exactly the same.  What’s it like to have something be uncomfortable, but not unfamiliar?

Now the really important question--[trumpet fanfare]--what’s it like to have something be unfamiliar, but not uncomfortable?

Really stop and answer that question by experiencing it before reading on.  Go ahead, invest the twenty seconds.

If you don’t bother to parse these two experiences, they can get mixed up.  If that happens too much, you can start to become uncomfortable every time you encounter something unfamiliar

This is bad news for musicians.  This is how you end up never practicing anything new, completely unaware that you’re spinning your wheels in a practice session, training yourself only to be what you already are.

Whenever you feel that little bit of resistance to practicing something you don’t normally practice, or doing a familiar thing in a new way, ask yourself, “is this uncomfortable, or just unfamiliar?”.  Yes, you still have to get out of your comfort zone on a regular basis.  Separating the uncomfortable from the unfamiliar is just a way to make sure your comfort zone isn't artificially small.