New Year Motivation

How do you make yourself do something that you normally would not do? This may be a decision that involves sustained physical effort such as losing weight, being nice to a co-worker(!), or eating less red meat, or drinking less. For some it may involve even more drastic changes, such as being a vegetarian or being a vegan. Many people are going vegan these days because of the effect of breeding livestock such as cows has impact on the environment. But given that it involves great change, how is it possible to work through these changes and establish them as habit?

For some, substituting some form of punishment is the chosen method. For example, if you were intending to become a vegetarian, but not quite there yet, then introducing a day of “punishment” for each day you fail not to eat red meat is their method. For example, if you failed not to eat meat on a day you had designated to go veggie, then maybe you might make a monetary donation to a charity. It is a simple method of punishment, one that we see frequently, such as in “swear jars” where people put money if they let slip a rude word from their mouths.

Sometimes an event may be the catalyst for a new change or direction in life, and provide the positive motivation long enough to provide the persistence and perseverance for until the new effort becomes habit. In this instance, why not take advantage of the new year to learn a new skill? It may be cooking. It may be to improve your home DIY skills. It may be something such as learning a new instrument or making up new piano covers or playing in a new style to create new versions of existing songs.

As we head into the new year, what would your new year resolutions be? You may find it takes you towards a new outlet of creativity and improves you as a person. Isn’t that what resolutions should be about?

Social Media – then and now

What would be your immediate reaction if you were on the move and then needed to make a call to someone, but this intention was scuppered by the lack of mobile connectivity? It is not an uncommon situation to be in; while mobile masts have sprung up by the hundreds and thousands since their inception, certain areas, particularly rural ones, struggle with a lack of mobile coverage and it is not possible to get a signal. Unfortunately, it is often the case that at these points in time a signal is most needed! Imagine if you were walking in the woods and twisted and ankle. How would you get help if you were on your own? And wouldn’t it just be the case that the mobile signal would be non-existent in that kind of situation?

We can possibly replace the case of needing to make a phone call with a similar need, to check emails or social media updates. Work and social media companies have cultivated a dependency in us to check our accounts at frequent intervals. What would your reaction be if your ability to do so was hindered by a lack of connectivity for a period of, for instance, four hours? According to social psychologists, many of us would feel slightly depressed and have elevated heart rate levels because the lack of control over our immediate circumstances would imposed these emotions upon us.

The dependency on such forms of technology may be a good reason for us to break the cycle of need. Not only do they create a negative effect when they work – they are forcing us to be dependent on them and to engage in repetitive behaviour such as checking for updates, but because of the negative impact they have when they do not work – causing us to be stressed and frustrated, and actively checking the internet connection so we can access our updates – it can be surmised we are slaves to that technology.

The piano composer Franz Liszt was a very social person, seeking the limelight as an extrovert, but managed to do so without the slightest level of social media that we have today. But being sociable without technology is possible, and arguably richer. You establish deeper levels of face to face relationships, because that is the only meaningful time you will get, instead of having two relationships (face to face and virtual) which may conflict with each other.

What would Liszt do if he were alive today? He might just have dispensed with the mobile phone. He would have preferred the live handkerchiefs thrown to him instead of the virtual emojis!

Doctor, doctor – and the case of Busoni

What do you do if you are feeling unwell? For example, if you wake up one morning and find that you have a cold, or even if that is the least of your worries – you may have a rasping throat, thumping headache and feel like the world is going to end – what would you do? Some of us would soldier on to work regardless of how we feel – maybe it is because we have used up our leave for the year and can’t really take the day off. Or maybe some of us work in a profession that looks down upon those that cannot tough it out. (“Policeman felled by common cold!”) Or perhaps if you are a parent with young children, and feel ill during their school holidays, you might think “I’d best go to work, it’s less stressful there than at home!”

Would you consider going to the doctor’s? Someone of us would question the reason for doing so if it were just a common complaint, such as having a flu virus. And you can see the point though – what can the GP do for you? There is little more that can be done apart from the recommendation of rest, lots of fluid, and pain relief for the period. In fact, you may just to let the illness run its course. But in some countries do you know that those who are ill have to visit their GP just to get a certification of their illness, which is then passed on to their employer or school as evidence of non-attendance? It may seem like a strange thing to do. If you are already ill, and need rest, why would you gee up all your energies to visit the doctor, and lounge in a waiting room full of equally sickly people and pick up all the mix of airborne viruses?

The classical piano composer Ferrucio Busoni was one of those people who refused to visit the doctor. He kept working and even when he became ill from fatigue, he refused to stop; unfortunately this is the extreme of balance! (You can read more about Busoni from the Piano Teacher N4 website.) Perhaps we should know when we need rest, and avoid going to the doctor for minor ailments, but if we suffer from prolonged poor health, take a bit of rest, and if health problems continue, see a doctor. That’s perhaps the best thing to do!

What music history tells us about addressing our reservations

Would you eat an insect if it meant that you were doing your part to save the earth as a world citizen? You might do it as a one-off, or as a dare among your friends, but chances are that insects aren’t really your preferred food at the moment, and you are not among the minority that considers grasshopper scratchings a treat on a Friday night at the pub. So why would you even condescend to even consider that thought and let it dwell in your head?

The truth is that such diets have been growing in popularity. Now diets have always been some sort of fad, as if someone thinks that one day we will stumble upon some sort of protein, carbohydrate and fat combination that allows us to eat as much food as we want, not have to exercise and still be ripped. Vegetarian diets and vegan diets have been getting more and more popular – but what is the reason for that? The reason is that meat production – especially beef from cows – accounts for more than twenty-five percent of greenhouse gas output by human beings. Reducing the consumption of meat would help reduce carbon emissions.

The problem also with reducing meat consumption is that the world population is growing and we cannot afford to carry on with this level of consumption. The world population stands at 7.5 billion people, and there is a finite amount of land for livestock farming. World population currently increases at a billion every two decades or less, and the growth will be exponential (the more people there are, the faster the population increases) so it is inevitable that there will not be enough meat for increasing populations. The solution, as some suggest, is to switch to an insect diet, for they are plentiful, but whether or not these take off really depends on how palatable they are, and how palatable the idea is!

Perhaps a chance encounter with someone who truly believes in this may change your reservations, if you have any. After all, the classical composer Leonard Bernstein, who had a successful career in music, would not have done so had his aunt not left a piano in his house while she was going through a separation. (Learn more about Bernstein from the Piano Lessons Archway website. The same goes for the blind Spanish composer, Joaquin Rodrigo, who would have stopped his career at its outset had he not met people who inspired him in spite of disability. (Read about Rodrigo from the Piano Lessons Archway page.

Eating insects may be a no-go for some for now, but as history shows us, a chance trial may be enough to change our minds!

Security fees

What would you do if a supermarket asked you first to make a debit payment on entering the store, and then refunded you the difference when you left the store, or asked you to top up the payment if you went above the deposit? You would probably view this kind of arrangement with some kind of suspicion. After all, it goes against the normal arrangement of things. When you require a product from a store, you pick it out from the store and then take it to the till to pay for it. It is a simple process, one that does not need to be complicated by initial deductions and subsequent resolution.

It might be slightly different if you required a service from someone, such as if you order new windows from your house. You have to give a deposit because while you have ordered a window, you have set someone else on a chain on ordering raw materials and for work to be done, and the deposit that you make is in meeting the person halfway in a binding agreement.

Perhaps binding agreements are what is being sought through this form of pay first, buy later and then get refunded, or top up the difference financial methods. They were trialled at fuel service stations, where car drivers were charged to use the pumps, then paid for their own purchases before getting the initial charge credited back to the them again. And why fuel service stations? It is because fuel theft – driving off the forecourt without paying – costs the economy lost revenues and wastes police time, in having to record, pursue and close investigations which detract from the real job of policing more serious matters.

By another name, this kind of down payment would be known as a security fee. And we do make such payments in our lives. We pay children’s school fees in advance. We pay online for items we have not received. But perhaps this kind of payment method is too radical for the present – but in future, who knows?


So here is another situation we might encounter on a daily basis. You sit on a train and the seat next to you is empty. The first thought that might come across your mind is the silent shout of hooray! Because this means that you can put your forearm on the armrest, and that there will be none of that awkwardness you encounter when two individuals silently manoeuvre their forearms so that they occupy a narrow strip of plastic of no mans land. So you rejoice inwardly, but this temporary moment of celebratory elation is soon suitably shattered at the next stop when a man walks through those two parting doors and lays his eyes at the empty seat.

Within moments of plonking himself into the gap, unceremoniously bouncing you an inch of your seat, you find not just your arm shoved off the shared armrest, but there is a sense of your own personal space being minimised by the expansion of the man. Your legs, which your mother had always taught you to keep within your own space, are now contorted sideways, as the man expands from his seat, like a toy sponge frog that has taken on water. If he is traveling on the train and continues with the same rate of expansion, he might swell to twice his size.

This sort of anti-social behaviour is more commonly perpetuated by men and it is so prevalent that it even has a term for it. Social commentators refer to the term as manspreading, simply because a man (used in its generic sense, actually) merely sites himself or herself in a particular spot and expands outwards, spreading the legs wide open and elbows out. It is a particularly unsightly social act, like a frog on its bottom.

What can you do if someone acts like that? Well, realise that some people deliberately go out of their way to be rude and difficulty. (Johannes Brahms, the classical music composer, would deliberately apologise for not having insulted people. And if you are ever a victim, don’t stay silent and endure the lack of consideration. Speak out. “Excuse me, can you keep your self out of my space please?” Or if you are simply too afraid to, then as you depart, casually knock an arm or bag into the offending body part. Look at the person. Glare. And then simply refuse to apologise as you walk off. That may be the return treatment most of us are comfortable with! It may not be good, but it is better for your well-being than holding on to that anger!

How beliefs shape careers

Mathematics is one subject in which many people claim not to be good with numbers. It almost seems acceptable to suggest that there is an inborn, predetermined inability to deal with numbers that , to excuse, to the casual observer, a lack of trying and effort. Is there any truth to this predetermined ability? Or are people shaped and influenced more by society and expectation?

Research shows the latter to be true. In psychological research undertaken by Yale University, the attitudes of two groups of students were studied by psychologists. The students were high school students and they were tracked across the college studies and working careers. The results of the research undertaken in 2008 found that even though the students had been assessed in high school to have similar SATs scores, there were diverse outcomes in their future careers. Those that went on to successful careers were those that displayed a willingness for patience and a willingness to try. Those that did not persist when faced with the initial signs of difficulty were those that ended up with what might be considered less stellar careers.

The results of this research are hardly surprising. We know that hard work allows us to achieve good results. What is less known, however, was that the less successful group was more inclined to quote generalisations to support their lack of effort. When students faced initial difficulty in the subject of Mathematics, some claimed “I’m not good with numbers” or “I’m more of an essay person” or “My family are more artistic and creative types”. The problem is two-fold: these generalisations are made by adults to excuse their own lack of effort, and secondly, younger individuals pounce on them as an immediate knee-jerk reaction to difficulty, and held on to these “axioms”. Few of those who claimed at high school level that they were not good with numbers went on to careers requiring these skills.

It is more the environment that shapes ability. Environment also shapes reaction. To help kids succeed, some measures could include putting them in training environments where they have to develop skills at persistence, trying while manipulating information. One of these environments is in learning a musical instrument. As a piano teacher in Stroud Green  mentions, it is juggling six or seven skills while developing the patience to improve.