What is the secret ingredient to success? Grit? Perseverance? Talent? What if I told you it was something else…
Recently, I came across this quote in the book “A More Beautiful Question” by Warren Berger:
Fear is the enemy of curiosity.
Isn’t this so true?
For example, in the context of sight-reading, if you’re afraid of making mistakes and playing wrong notes, this may stop you from trying to sight-read pieces out of curiosity. This fear may be the very thing stopping you from working on your sight-reading. And it may explain why you keep playing the same set of pieces you’ve learned because it keeps you safe.
But have you ever had these moments where despite being scared of something, you’re SO curious about this thing you’re scared of that you do it anyway?
Like when you have a fear of flying but you really want to see this place on the other side of the world and the only way to get there is by plane. You would get on that plane anyway, wouldn’t you?
But when you’re more scared than curious about something, then fear wins and keeps you stuck. The desire to find out whatever lies on the other side is simply not as strong as the fear of finding out.
So then, to conquer this fear, wouldn’t you need to increase your desire and curiosity about the thing that scares you? But how do you cultivate curiosity? How do you become so curious about something that you do it anyway despite the fear?
How do you become curious about what a piece of music sounds like despite the sheet music looking really scary? What if the sheet music looks scarier than it really is?
Have you ever had that experience where you thought something was going to be really difficult and scary and then you do it and realise that it wasn’t that bad after all?
Like when I did my first ever Zoom call in the Sight-Reading Club last month. I felt really nervous before coming on live. I was even doing some breathing exercises right before to calm myself down! And you know the funny thing is? Once I got on the call (I had made a commitment to be there so there was no turning back) and started chatting with the members, I enjoyed myself so much that I forgot all about my fears!
It just goes to show that the thought of a scary action is often scarier than the action itself.
The problem is that our mind is so good at coming up with worst-case scenarios. It will keep producing thoughts like “what if this happened?” or “what if that happened?” That’s because its job is to keep us safe. It doesn’t want us to do anything we’ve never done before which we automatically label as “scary”. It wants to protect us. But by wanting to protect us, it keeps us stuck.
The worst thing we can do is to actually pay attention to these thoughts that our brain invents and stay in fear. Unless we learn to dissociate ourselves from these negative thoughts, we’ll believe them to be true and we’ll feel the fear. Even though 99% of the time, there’s nothing to fear. And in fact, there’s no real danger. We’re not going to die or lose a limb. Yes, our ego might get a little hit but that’s about it.
What’s the worst thing that could happen?
Now, let’s return to the example of sight-reading pieces… what’s the worst thing that could happen? You play a wrong note? You play the wrong rhythm? You play at half the speed?
Okay, and so what? You’re at home, practising on your own. Maybe a family member is present but they’re probably not listening anyway. You’re not on stage performing at Carnegie Hall, right? And besides, “real practice” shouldn’t sound anything like a performance. It should sound choppy and messy. I mean, ideally, when you’re sight-reading, you want to make it sound as close to a performance as you can, but you have to remember that it’s not a performance and if you do play a wrong note here and there, it’s okay.
If anything, you should celebrate the wrong notes because they give you clues as to what you can improve on. So go on. Make mistakes! You’ll see that the more mistakes you make, the faster you’ll realise that mistakes are actually harmless. And then hopefully, your curiosity to sight-read more and more pieces will trump your original fear of making mistakes.
Curiosity is the secret ingredient to success
To the quote above, I would add that “Curiosity trumps fear”. In fact, I believe that curiosity is the secret ingredient to success. In the dictionary, curiosity is defined as “the desire to learn or know more about something or someone”. It’s the drive that moves you forward and makes you want to see what’s on the other side. It’s the thing that determines whether you remain where you are, within your comfort zone, or whether you step outside in the arena and face your fears. Anything you desire is outside your comfort zone, in the arena. Not on the sidelines.
I would even add that “Perfectionism is the enemy of curiosity”. Perfection is not real anyway. It’s just an idea we strive towards but we can never reach perfection. When you’re sight-reading, you should aim for quantity, not quality, as I explain in the article To Improve Sight-Reading, Focus on Quantity Over Quality. Sight-read loads and loads of music. Don’t let perfectionism or fear stop you in your tracks. Let your curiosity guide you. If you find yourself flipping through a sheet music and thinking “I wonder what this piece sounds like?” then you’re on the right track.
That’s how I got here and that’s how all successful sight-readers got here. They just followed their curiosity and didn’t give in to the fear of failure.
So, what’s it going to be? Are you going to let fear take the better of you or are you going to follow your curiosity and sight-read anyway?
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