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Practical Handbook for the Working Musician, Part 9: More Positive Thinking for the Working Musician
February 1, 2023

by Mike Mindel. This article was originally published on HVmusic around the year 2000.

Don't read this article-- hot licks and a bad attitude is all you need.

If You Think You Can, You Can

If you haven't figured it out yet from my last few articles, I'm a big fan of thinking positive. What does this mean? Ironically, it is easier to tell you what it doesn't mean.

Being a positive thinker doesn't mean when something bad happens you're not bothered by it. It does mean a positive thinker won't dwell on the negative for very long, but will focus their energies on solving a problem and looking for the good that may co me out of it; without prolonging the disabling effect of the negative emotions. The negative thinker tends to over-dramatize the situation and spends too much valuable emotional energy dwelling on the problem instead of the solution.

Being a positive thinker doesn't mean you're always happy. You've got to wonder about those people. Nor does it mean you always feel compelled to broadcast your abilities or accomplishments, or intended accomplishments, to anyone who will listen. The true positive thinker has a quiet self-confidence about them. Unless asked, they share their goals and aspirations only with the people that care about them and with those people who can help them accomplish those goals. In other words, they're not a blowhard. Positive thinkers, you'll find, often will say "I can" or "I will". How often do you find yourself saying "I can't" or "I won't"? Be aware of people who often use these negative words. Negative people will tell you all the reasons something can't be done. Negativity is like a cancer, but so is optimism. Of the people in your life, who are the positive thinkers?

If you want to change something about yourself, think and speak of this change in the active-present tense. For example: The negative thinker would say: "We'll never find a good enough lead singer for the band." A more positive thinker would say: "I'm sure we'll find a good enough lead singer for the band." But to enact change now, speak in the active-present tense. "We are finding a lead singer for the band. Tomorrow, I'm putting an ad in the paper and calling some players to see if they know anybody." Do you see the difference between the three? Who are you most like?

Capability vs. Ability

You see, if you think you can, you can. If you think you can't, you probably won't. Seems pretty simple, huh? A big factor in how well we perform in life (and in music) is understanding the difference between capability and ability. Most of us are capable of playing the hottest lick we know in every key, at the same top speed and accuracy we play the lick in our favorite key. But, many of us just aren't able to do it right now. We have the capability (the innate ability). That is, our fingers can move fast enough and we have enough brain cells left to comprehend it, but we are just not able to play it at this present moment. We just haven't been willing to take the steps required to accomplish this. If you want to grow as a person, it's important yo u understand this and be honest with yourself about the reasons why you aren't doing something, whether it's something as simple as a lick or anything else you do. By saying or thinking in terms of "can't", you limit your perception of your own abilities.

There is nothing the matter with not wanting to do what it takes to accomplish this or that, as long as you are aware that it is your personal choice. Know that you are capable of it. You've just made the choice not to now. As the concepts of "capable" vs. "able", and "if you think you can, you can" begin to settle into your long-term memory, you will find that more and more, they'll just sort of pop out as you need them. It's simply a learned habit. Just like the knee-jerk reaction of the pessimist is always "I can't" or "I'm not".

As I mentioned earlier, all this mental stuff doesn't mean you are always happy. One of the most important aspects of a mentally healthy positive thinker, or any human being for that matter, is that they possess and utilize they're ability to express the full range of emotions, from despair to orgasmic elation at the appropriate times. Honing our sense of when to use what emotion appropriately, and in what dose, is one of the things that separates adults from children. (Or children trapped in adults bodies. We all know at least one of them!) Unless you are daine bramaged, you possess the capability. Closing the gap (or synapse, as the case may be) between capability and ability is just a matter of practice. It's a learned habit. Practice for your mind, practice for your fingers, practice for your emotions.

This is the final installment of the Practical Handbook for the Working Musician. Hope you enjoyed it.


Musician joke of the month:

Three musicians die and go to heaven. At the pearly gates, St. Peter tells them he has to ask each of them what their instrument and IQ is, to make sure they're in the right place. The first guy says he's a concert pianist and his IQ is 130. St. Peter says, "OK, you can go in." The second guy says he plays guitar and his IQ is 120. St. Peter says, "OK, you can go in." The third guy says his IQ is 80 and St. Peter says, "what kind of sticks do you use?


Mike Mindel has been a professional musician for over 40 years and is currently a member of The Bills Toupee Band.

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