How to Stop Procrastinating and Start Practicing: Why Motivation Is an Unreliable Resource

Willpower alone probably won’t get you into the practice room day after day to do the unglamorous dirty work of mastering difficult passagework. Studies have shown that willpower is variable and wears out when we get tired. When learning a new skill, such as how to juggle, or when trying to enact long-term behavioral change, such as sticking to a diet, some days we can overcome the obstacles, but other days our willpower just isn’t strong enough.

Make Practicing as Easy as Possible by Removing Obstacles

Remove ObstaclesIt is therefore important to remove as many obstacles to getting started on the daily work as you can. Make sure that you have all the necessary resources in your practice space. Put the music that you want to work on first on the music stand on the day before. At a time when your motivation is strong, take care of any little task that you can do ahead of time that will allow you to begin work immediately when you sit down to practice.

Build a System to Automate Your Practice Habits

Setting GoalsEven more important than making the beginning of practicing easier is setting up a system where both planning and practice habits become automatic. The system will attach the routines to behavioral triggers that will ensure that you don’t slack off. To be successful in establishing these routines, such a system must have the following three components:


  1. You set tiny little goals that are easily achievable in just a few minutes.
  2. You make a habit of formulating and scheduling these goals and attach both the planning and execution of these goals to other daily habits like checking your voicemail or turning your computer off before going home.
  3. You mentally reward yourself when you accomplish your goals.

Blueprint for Building Your Strategic Practicing System

Performance Ready Fast Title PageI have built such a system for you to use to build your strategic practice habits. I lay out the system and give you tools to make implementing the system easy in my e-book Performance-Ready Fast. No other book on practicing helps you establish your routine with psychological strategies that work. The book guides you through the learning process with prompts that ensure your follow-through and success. Also included are strategies for mastering sight-reading and guidelines to help you validate your musical interpretations. Performance-Ready Fast will be available soon, but only to my newsletter subscribers. Non-subscribers will have to wait for the wider release of the e-book.

Begin Removing Obstacles Now

I would like to know what obstacles to beginning your next practice session you can eliminate today. Can you leave your instrument out instead of putting it in the case? Can you put all of your music in a folder and set it on your music stand? Everyone’s routines are different. What are your unique obstacles and how might you ameliorate or eliminate them? Send me a message in the contact form on the right! I personally read every email.

Robert Kelley

About Robert Kelley

Robert Kelley is a music theorist, composer, pianist, harpsichordist, and Associate Professor of Music at Lander University, in Greenwood, South Carolina.
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