Overcoming the Guilt from Lack of Practice

Overcoming the Guilt from Lack of Practice

Written for Allegro magazine, official journal of AFM Local 802 NYC.
Since the pandemic intensified a few months ago, many musicians are experiencing serious problems staying motivated. They are not practicing very much, if at all. Many may feel guilty for letting their otherwise highly refined skills deteriorate. They may feel even worse for not taking advantage of their extra time to maintain or improve their skills.
Guilt is a negative emotional response that happens when a person realizes that they have done something that they consider to be wrong or for failing to do something that they believe to be right. They recognize that they have compromised their standards of behavior or violated their own values, and they feel personally responsible for doing so. This can be followed with a negative evaluation of their conduct leading to feeling shame and remorse.
The physical symptoms that accompany guilt and shame include insomnia, headaches, digestive difficulties, loss of appetite, body aches and pains, muscle tension, drained energy, and fatigue. These tend to amplify the experience of emotional discomfort, irritability, sadness, and general malaise that often accompany guilt.
For musicians, the guilt feelings first hit when you realize that you have compromised your usual high standards by not practicing the way that you are accustomed to. It feels like you have breached the contact that you previously maintained with yourself. Unfortunately, the pervasive guilt that many musicians are experiencing right now involves other negative emotions besides shame and remorse. These include anxiety, frustration, anger, depression, and resentment. These painful feelings don’t go away easily. If you leave these feelings to fester by continued failure to adequately practice, they can turn into serious regret, low self-esteem, and feelings of deep inadequacy. This results in even less motivation to practice. It can put you in a deep hole where you can get stuck wallowing in guilt.
Guilt, frustration, and even shame can be helpful if you use them to get you moving. The first step out of the abyss is forgiving yourself for what you have done or failed to do the past several months. It was a direct and understandable result of the pandemic. Nobody is perfect, including you, and especially in these challenging times. As soon as possible, release your feelings of guilt and all of the other negative emotions associated with it. Repair the damage. If you’ve been punishing yourself unnecessarily lately, stop immediately. That won’t help in any way. Any punishment does not fit the alleged crime that you may have committed. You are not a bad person because you have not felt like practicing lately. Accept your behavior with self-compassion so you can move past the guilt, shame, regret, and resentment.
Guilt can be a healthy emotion when it’s telling you that something needs to be fixed and that you need to make important changes if you want to feel better. Change your perspective and your approach. Move from what is not working for you to building productive habits that serve your best interests and growth as a musician. You can learn from your previous mistakes and actually be grateful for what they have taught you, if only not to repeat them. Resolve to make things better for yourself as a musician starting today. Make up your mind to change your unhelpful recent habits and replace them with a functional plan of action to improve your skills. Start (or continue with) a practice journal. Write down your outcome and practice goals for the next six months. Figure out how you will use the extra time you have to become an even better musician by then. Include a detailed schedule for your daily practice sessions, as well as a commitment to making weekly recorded performances.
Imagine yourself getting into a highly effective practice routine five days a week, with the sixth day for a recorded performance of what you were practicing, and the seventh day every week for rest. In the meantime, stay optimistic and take total responsibility for your practice time and habits. Take decisive action to improve your musical skills. This is how you can become a much better performer in several months, before you return to live concerts, shows, and auditions. It is also how you can get past guilt and get back on track refining your skills.
So, how do you get to Carnegie Hall? Stop feeling guilty and resume practicing often and effectively. Those are the only things that will make you feel better as a musician. The first steps are usually the most challenging but it’s nothing that you can’t do, or haven’t done in your career. Now’s the time for you to do it. On behalf of me personally, and all the other music fans in New York and throughout the world, we are really looking forward to hearing you play again. Please practice, so that when you return, it will sound even better than before. We need your beautiful sounds more than ever. I want to thank you in advance for getting ready for those performances.
Situational Depression

Situational Depression

Written for Allegro magazine, official journal of AFM Local 802 NYC.

Now that we are many weeks into the pandemic, hopefully we are moving beyond the
initial stage of shock and denial of the grieving process. Denial provided temporary relief
from the harsh reality that was dawning on us with increasing clarity. That feeling likely
transitioned into anger, followed by attempts to bargain with the new and unwelcome
situation we now live in. This may result in a depression like a heavy, dark cloud which
persistently hovers over our heads.

There are different types of depression or mood disorders, such as major depression,
bipolar disorder, and postpartum depression. Some types of depression can have
identifiable causes, such as suffering extreme trauma or hormonal changes after giving
birth. Others may have no trigger at all and just seem to happen somehow “out of the
blue”. However, what most of us are currently experiencing is situational depression.

Situational depression is not necessarily a permanent condition, and the cause is
largely due to the current pandemic. The typical onset of situational depression is within
a week of encountering a difficult situation, or it can be up to three months. The
symptoms usually begin receding within six months of living in the situation. Many of the
symptoms of situational depression are similar to those of the more enduring forms of
clinical or major depression.

Depression affects people in a variety of ways. Physically, it drains our vital energy.
That makes us feel tired and lethargic, not wanting to move or do anything. There may
be unexplained pain, headaches, cramps, or digestive problems. We may have
insomnia, early awakening, or have trouble getting out of bed in the morning. There may
be appetite changes, with unintentional weight gain or loss. Some folks may feel
restless and unable to sit still for very long.

The psychological effects of depression include confusion, apathy, pessimism, victim
mentality, increased doubt, recurrent negative thoughts, endless worry, obsessing on
problems, imagining the worst, impaired cognitive functioning, low self esteem, difficulty
concentrating, memory issues, problems making decisions, and the loss of motivation to
work, practice, or participate in otherwise preferred activities.

Depression can have a heavy impact on our emotional balance and sense of well-being.
It can make us feel really down, irritable, angry, anxious, panicky, hopeless, helpless,
overwhelmed, terrified, doomed, and in despair. It can feel like a black hole of
emptiness and sadness at the deepest core of our beings. It doesn’t seem to go away
on its own during the day. Then it can wake us up in the night to remind us of the many
problems we’re struggling with, without reaching real solutions to solve them. To put it
lightly, depression can put us in an incredibly bad mood.

Some people experience only a few of these symptoms, while others may unfortunately
experience many of them simultaneously. The severity and frequency of symptoms and
how long they last for you will depend on the unique conditions in your life at the present
moment and how you respond to the current situation.

If you feel that you are experiencing a serious mood disorder that is beyond situational
depression, or you’re having considerable trouble coping with it, you should reach out
for help. Taking action to find a therapist or doctor is a sign of tremendous courage and
inner strength. I personally believe this. That comes from a West Point graduate, former
Army Captain, Ranger, and decorated Green Beret.

Caring professionals are readily available to assist you, even if you’re stuck at home in
your cave, feeling sorry for yourself, not wanting to talk to anyone. If you are there and
considering harming yourself, please reach out to someone who can help. Call 1-800-
273 TALK (8255) or visit suicide.org. We cannot stand to lose any more lives. That
would make matters so much worse for everyone.

However, if you’re experiencing mild to moderate situational depression, you can walk
your way out, figuratively and literally. Know that it is normal to feel this way, and almost
everyone you know probably feels the same way. Take one step at a time and begin to
move yourself out of the dark pit. Do not allow yourself to get stuck and wallow in your
depression and self-pity until it gets better on its own, because it may be here for a long
time. Again, seek professional counseling if you are having intense symptoms.

Feeling helpless, hopeless, and overwhelmed are symptoms of depression, but they do
not need to be constants of your current situation. The pandemic is extremely bad, but
the vast majority of us will survive this crisis. Some people will even thrive in spite of it.
In the meantime, there are a number of things that you can do that will help you feel
better and function more effectively whenever you’re ready. Here are my tips:

● Expect your mood to improve gradually, but not immediately.
● Set realistic but challenging goals for yourself for the next six months.
● Establish a structured daily routine of activities, especially in the morning.
● Soon after waking up, expose yourself to sunlight and fresh air.
● Try to stretch and exercise moderately six days a week. Ease into exercise gradually;
don’t overdo it at first if you’re out of shape.
● Get good sleep and recreation daily.
● Eat as healthy as possible and hydrate to the max.
● Strive to regain a sense of control and happiness in your life.
● Practice optimism and supportive, positive self-talk.
● Be especially kind and loving to yourself and others.

● Be aware of reckless behavior or acting out.
● Imagine things going better for you in the near future.
● Find accurate sources of news and practical information.
● Literally count your blessings every day.
● Summon your courage to handle this challenging condition.
● Control what is under your control and let go of the rest.
● Confide your thoughts and true feelings to a trusted friend or loved one.
● If you feel that it would be helpful or advised, seek professional counsel.

Stay safe and well. We will get through this together.

Covid-19: A Strategic Plan for Musicians

Covid-19: A Strategic Plan for Musicians

Written for Allegro magazine, official journal of AFM Local 802 NYC.
The current disaster can be really tough on professional musicians in New York who play in symphonies, operas, and Broadway, but are not trained to deal with such a tragic event. It can understandably cause you to feel anxious, worrisome, and depressed, especially if you don’t have a strategic plan for dealing effectively with the current situation.
For more than 30 years, I have worked with emergency first responders, SWAT officers, and disaster relief teams tocope effectively with disasters. After the World Trade Center bombings on 9/11, I was in charge of crisis intervention in New York for Merrill Lynch. As bad as that was for the traders on Wall Street, the present conditions are worse for musicians. All of those terrible events happened in a short span of time. After that, it was mainly about recovering from the attack and repairing the damage done. Unfortunately, you are just starting to experience the potential damage, It’s going to get worse and it won’t end soon. Many things are going to be out of your control, no matter what you do. However, for the time being, you need to focus on what you can control, which is your response to the situation.
First of all, follow the recommendations of the health professionals in your community until this passes. In the meantime, here’s what I will suggest for not only surviving the ordeal, but growing and even thriving as a result of it. You have a choice. A few months from now, you could be much better as a musician or you could be an out of shape musician. It will depend on your mindset and how you approach the unexpected time off from your usual gigs. If you fall into a self-pity or victim mentality, which is really easy to do right now, you will feel helpless. You won’t be able to deal well with the situation. That will cause you to become more anxious, depressed, and zap your energy. You won’t feel like practicing, and your skills will deteriorate, causing real damage. You do not want to allow that to happen. You need an effective approach to the current situation with a plan of action.
You need to set up a calendar to schedule your practice time and other activities for the next two months. Due to the lack of structure provided by your usual work, you need to create daily, weekly, and monthly events to navigate through the extra time that you’ll have. You should also establish specific goals to accompany those activities. The long term goal is to play better than you do right now. Arrange for a performance online at the end of each month to demonstrate your progress to your friends and fans. You should also set weekly goals for your practice, with a recorded, solo performance at the end of the week to monitor your progress. On a daily basis, one of the best things to do is establish and follow a routine in the morning soon after you get up.
A good morning routine will kick start your day, and set you up to make the best of every day. The ritual will quickly get your energy flowing after you wake up, make your body more supple, and hopefully put you in a good mood. It involves getting up a little early, but you have the time now. I’d recommend that you begin the routine tomorrow morning.
You will need to get up about 30 minutes early. As soon as possible, drink at least 8 oz of water to gear up your body’s metabolism. Within a few minutes, splash cold water vigorously in your face at least 7 times. This will shock your nervous system and release adrenaline into your bloodstream. That will wake you up right away. Or, you can take a short, cool shower (not cold). The discomfort will release endorphins, which will make you feel better, especially after you turn the water off.
Get outside within a few minutes, before you have time to talk yourself out of it. If the weather is really bad, you can do the first part of the routine indoors. Get your body supple by stretching slowly, and then increase your heart rate by about 20% by climbing stairs, doing jumping jacks, or jogging in place. However, it’s better to start by going outside. The fresh air and direct natural light will signal your body and brain that it’s time to wake up. Stretch slowly and then take a brisk walk or jog for at least 20 minutes. As you do, breathe deeply.
After you return, sit quietly for a few minutes, so you can check in with how you are feeling, and what’s presently on your mind. Decide on the most important things for you to do during the day. Write them out and then imagine yourself accomplishing them. Be grateful for the opportunity you have to improve, and count your blessings that you are healthy.
Your new Morning Routine is very important, so like the Nike commercial says, “Just do it”. No excuses. It won’t take long for you to realize how effective it can be to get you off to an energized start, in the right frame of mind and with an uplifted emotional state. You need to commit to doing your Morning Routine every day of the week except Sunday. That’s when you need to recover and get ready for the next week. In addition to your morning routine and daily practice, there are other productive uses of the extra time you have. This is a good time to schedule Skype lessons, catch up on emails, texts, phone calls, and unfinished projects around the house. You want to keep active during this time and not become a couch potato. Find new rep to work on, get your instrument in good shape, or improve your practice environment.
You can also explore new creative outlets, such as composing, drawing, painting, and writing. During these few months you can also catch up on books that you’ve been meaning to read, movies you’ve wanted to watch, and touch base with friends and loved ones, without actual contact. Also remember to schedule pleasurable down time for yourself, and try to keep your sense of humor. I hope you stay safe and positive during this time. Dr. Don Greene is offering stress counseling to performing artists at a discounted rate. Please visit this link for more information: www.winningonstage.com/covid19.
How to Train Like an Olympic Champion for Your Next eSports Competition

How to Train Like an Olympic Champion for Your Next eSports Competition

Guest blog written for AlleyWatch.
There is only one chance in 562,400 that a person in today’s world will win a medal in the summer Olympic Games. Depending upon the sport and event, the chances of winning a gold medal range from 1 in 3.5 million to 1 in 9 million. I was fortunate to train several track and field athletes and swimmers before the 2016 Games in Rio. Of those athletes, 14 medaled and 5 won gold. Here’s what I learned about these men and women did to train for their success.
The athletes came to the Olympic Training Center in San Diego inspired by dreams held since they were youngThese dreams fueled their burning desire that was aligned with their goals and clear intentions. They knew that their journey would not be easy. It would take a long-term commitment and require discipline, diligence, dedication, perseverance, patience, mental toughness, and a positive attitude. It would also take a support team of experts, including coaches, exercise physiologists, nutritionists, biomechanics specialists, strength coaches, physical therapists, and sports psychologists.
For eSports athletes facing an upcoming competition, here are a few training tips you can take away. Soon after arriving at the Center, the athletes underwent a battery of comprehensive tests to objectively measure their various talents and abilities. They were physically evaluated on their technique, strength, speed, agility, balance, range of motion, body mass index, and diet. They were mentally assessed on their confidence, poise, focus, mental toughness, and resilience. After validating their test results, each athlete understood what their individual strengths were, as well as what they needed to learn and improve.
One of the most important things that many of them needed to learn was how to train not only hard but smart. This involved a proven cyclical training method known as periodization. Periodization uses a four-part training cycle: Preparation, tapering, execution, and recovery. Most of the athletes’ time was spent in intense preparation in the years and months leading up to major competitions. In the final weeks before the Games, they backed off from their usual level of training and began their tapering process.
When the runners and swimmers tapered, they dramatically decreased the number of meters they were putting in every day. The discus and javelin throwers cut in half the amount of effort they put into their throws. In the weight room, the shot putters and hammer throwers were lifting a fraction of what they normally did. All the athletes did this in order to go into the competition fresh and rested. Then they were able to peak their energy and execute their skills at a high level during their events, especially in the finals. Afterward, they needed time to recover before starting their next training cycle.
The athletes also varied their training regimens so that they did not do the same drills or exercises two days in a row. That gave specific muscles, joints, tendons, and ligaments the time to recover from maximal use before engaging them again. Their minds also needed a variety of new or different techniques to turn complex, coordinated skills into habits that could be performed correctly without conscious thought or deliberation.

The athletes worked on the mental skills that were identified by their comprehensive sports psychology assessments as needing more improvement. These skills included channeling adrenaline, building confidence, maintaining poise under pressure, strengthening courage, focusing past distractions, recovering from mistakes, and developing mental toughness.

The athletes learned and used a variety of mental strategies including relaxation techniques, visualization or mental rehearsal, the Centering process, focusing techniques, and competitive strategies.

They made their own video highlight films that they watched over and over. They listened repeatedly to their own playlist of personal songs, as well as motivational or inspirational speakers’ programs. They posted positive sayings on their walls and mirrors and frequently recited affirmations to themselves throughout the day. Whether participating in the Olympic Games or an eSports championship, the necessary training involves an intense, comprehensive process that prepares athletes for the physical and mental challenge of competing at such a high level. Athletes who compete at the highest level of their sport must be dedicated, resilient, confident, and extremely disciplined. Most of all, they are apt to take on challenges with a commitment to continual improvement.
Covid-19: Dealing with the Chaos

Covid-19: Dealing with the Chaos

Written for Allegro magazine, official journal of AFM Local 802 NYC.
Although I currently reside in Los Angeles, I am a real New Yorker at heart. I lived in Queens when I was young, went to high school in Brooklyn, practiced diving in the Bronx, and lived in Manhattan for nearly a decade when I taught at Juilliard. The only classes I ever missed teaching in that time were in the months following the 9/11 tragedy. I led the crisis intervention and disaster management teams for Merrill Lynch in NY on a full-time basis. I also provided grief counseling for the widows and families of the Cantor Fitzgerald financial firm which lost more than 600 of their employees. I am a decorated Army veteran, but I cried in my apartment in midtown every night for months after the attacks. Whenever I hear Bridge Over Troubled Waters, written by a musician from Queens, I still lose it.
I was fortunate to be in the city and able to help a lot of people cope with the tragic event. However, the COVID-19 pandemic situation is even worse than 9/11. We have already lost many more of our fellow New Yorkers than in the attacks, and we will continue to suffer even more loss of life for too many months to come. For the rest of us, it will cause profound pain and unwelcome changes in our lives and careers. However, the one thing I know about my fellow New Yorkers is that we are very resilient. We have been through lots of tough stuff before. We will persevere through this ordeal as we have always done. The city will assuredly bounce back and so will the music industry.
In the meantime, musicians need to cope with the unfathomable losses that you are experiencing due to the COVID-19. You may be furloughed or possibly have lost your job entirely. Your orchestra season is most likely over. Festivals, sporting events, and camps may not be happening this summer. Others have taken their career entirely online. Teaching remotely and conference meetings pose new technological challenges. You may also be working remotely, with children at home, and no help. Financial hardship is a major concern.
My goal of this article is to introduce you to a framework that may help you deal with this pain and change. The framework was written by Elisabeth Kubler-Ross who studied patients that were terminally ill. She published a book in 1969 describing five stages that many of the patients experienced. We can apply these stages to our losses and sufferings.
The first stage is shock and denial. This is when we initially go numb and refuse to accept what has just happened. Our minds get overwhelmed and go into a confused fog, unable to process the information. We can feel temporarily removed from the reality of the unthinkable situation.
The next stage is anger. Once the initial shock wears off and we start to absorb the new reality, anger starts to set in. We get mad about what happened and the way it will change everything in our lives from now on. We may blame health professionals, the community, the government, or higher powers for the tragic condition.
The third stage is negotiating with what has recently happened. This is trying to come to terms with the extent and scope of the disaster. At this point, we might develop the false hope that everything will soon be back to normal if we behave in a certain way. This is a desperate attempt to resolve or fix the problem somehow with our minds.
The fourth stage is going into a state of depression. We can feel hopeless after losing the regular circumstances with our careers, personal relationships, pursuits, finances, living conditions, preferred activities, and interests. Sadly, with the global pandemic it’s like we all belong to a club that we never wanted to join, and we are paying way too much to be in it.
The fifth stage of the process is acceptance of the new reality. There is a new normal that we all need to get used to. The fog, anger, and depression will start to recede as the mind begins to accept what is. Once you acknowledge that fact, you can start to move on. You can begin your new life, and continue to grow and evolve as an individual. However, it is normal to cycle through these five stages multiple times during the grieving process.
In the meantime, it will help to understand that the initial shock was due to a profoundly chaotic event. Unfortunately, we are still living in the midst of chaos and uncertainty. This is a state of collective confusion and instability. Chaos is defined as a disordered condition in a highly complex system, involving many interdependent parts, like countries, governments, and people.
Chaotic events are predictable for a while, and then appear to become random in nature. Although chaos is impossible to predict, it’s helpful to know that it follows a pattern of repetitive behavior which has an underlying, organizing principle. There’s actually some order in chaos.
According to Chaos Theory, in order for an event to be chaotic, three conditions must be met. First, it needs to be highly dependent on what happened during the initial stages of the potential disaster. This is known as the Butterfly Effect: the radical idea that a butterfly flapping its wings in Brazil can result in a tornado in Texas.
The second condition of chaos is the irreversibility of the event. The process only moves forward. After different colored paints are mixed, you cannot undo what was done and separate them back into the individual colors.
The third condition is that the event will be repeated periodically, but in a somewhat different way. After it goes through one cycle, it will return to the original starting point. Then it will begin a similar, but unpredictable course. However, with each successive iteration, especially with some form of outside intervention, it will diminish in its intensity and scope until it becomes extinct or relatively inconsequential (like Polio).
The organizing principle is this: in an interdependent system, a change in the early state can result in vast differences in a later state. The evolution is determined by the initial conditions and what was done (or not done) early in the developing crisis. Since chaotic events involve the complex interactions of many parts, they are highly unpredictable over time. There can be no certainty about how they will affect the system, only that it will continue to change.
In reviewing each of the chaos stages, here are some ideas of how to handle them.
Stage 1: If you are still in a state of shock, disbelief, and denial, take your time to come to terms with reality. This is a good time to catch up on sleep. Comfort and take care of yourself. This is not the time to think about long term issues or make important decisions.
Stage 2: If you’re still experiencing negative emotions, such as anger or fear, take time for them to heal. You can help the process by looking for forgiveness rather than blaming, focus on courage instead of fear, and develop sincere gratitude by counting your many blessings.
Stage 3: When you feel ready, begin to rationally address the extent and scope of the chaotic event. Pay attention to ways you try to bargain with the situation in your mind. Remember that you cannot change the situation, but you can control your behavior.
Stage 4: When you are ready, you can devise an effective plan of action to navigate your tendencies when you feel depressed. This should include self-care efforts to exercise and eat healthy. Be mindful of procrastination and find ways to build routines. Stay informed through trustworthy sources, but avoid bingeing on the news, dwelling on problems, or focusing on things that are out of your control.
Stage 5: When you’re able to get up and get moving, you will feel ready to accept your new situation, and you can make the best of it. Try to envision the COVID-19 crisis as an opportunity that can come with benefits. It will eventually subside. In the meantime, let go of any attachments you still have to what is out of your control. Embrace the chaos as the new normal.
We are just at the beginning of the profound changes ahead of us. It may continue to be difficult for quite some time before it gets better, but it will never be the same. You need to imagine yourself in this new reality, and rather than just surviving the horrible conditions, start to envision yourself thriving.
Focus on what you can control. Engage in self-care: healthy habits and routines. Eat well, exercise, and stay in touch with close friends, colleagues, and loved ones. Keep in mind that you are not alone in this grief! Many people find great comfort in sharing their unique stories with each other.
As someone who was the head of disaster relief at Meryll Lynch in NYC after 9/11, I have a lot of background in helping people find the new normal. I will be posting stories often on Instragram @winningonstage. In addition, I have also created a free PDF download on my website: www.winningonstage.com/covid19 entitled, “Tips for Managing COVID-19.”