The Power of Habits
Do you feel like you have to do big things in order to make progress in your vocal journey? Maybe you ask yourself if other singers that are more successful or further along their journey have made some extraordinary changes to their lives, or perhaps it was just talent and a sprinkle of luck that got them where they are.
What if I told you that, while it may have played a part in their “success”, there’s something much more powerful than talent when it comes to accomplishing your singing goals?
A while ago I read James Clear’s book Atomic Habits. And BOY did it open my eyes. The book explains pretty well how tiny little steps each day are better than one big step a month, or maybe a year. It’s basically a very detailed breakdown of the famous quote “consistency is key”. To illustrate that, let’s think about it this way: will you become fitter if you work out at the gym for seven hours straight once, and then come back 6 months later to do that all over again? Sounds ridiculous, right? Instead, it would be more effective to work out 6 times per week for 15 minutes. This way you can slowly build your strength and stamina. Now apply this thought process to your entire life and build off of that.
Goals vs. Systems
We tend to set goals in one way or another, and that is not a bad thing. However, consider this: for a basketball coach, the goal is to win the season. However, every other basketball coach in the league has the same goal. So what sets the winning team apart from the losing team? Since they all had the same goal, it must have been their way of doing things that separated one from the other. This means that having a system, and a certain way of doing things is the key to success, and that your goal can be your point of reference, but never the end of the road.
Why? Because the problem with simple goal setting is that achieving a goal only changes your life for a moment. If your goal is to tidy your messy room, you have to put a whole lot of energy into it and it may take hours to do. And then it takes around two days until you’re back to the mess you had spent so long cleaning. If you want a tidier room for a prolonged amount of time you will have to set up a system that allows for this to happen. This system can consist of things like making your bed immediately when you get up, organizing your desk when you finish a task, always taking that empty water bottle with you to the kitchen when you leave your room, etc. You get the idea. Now, let’s translate this to the singing world.
The goal a singer sets may be to perform a solo at the end-of-year talent show. Your fellow choir singers have the same goal. What can set you apart is the system that helps you get there. Make it a habit to vocalize every day, stay hydrated, and get enough sleep, the whole shebang. But how can you do this consistently and not fall off the bandwagon after 3 weeks? Based on what I have been experimenting with over the last few months and the book I mentioned at the start of this article, here are a few steps you can take.
1. Relate the Habit to Your Identity
Instead of setting a goal of performing a solo, your goal is to become a singer. Now you can ask yourself, what would a singer do? And each time you do something that a singer would do – vocalizing, taking lessons, memorizing lyrics, drinking water, getting enough sleep, being mindful about how you nourish your body, etc. – you are reaffirming the identity of a singer. You are a singer when you make the decisions a singer would make!
2. Simplify the Habit
It’s hard to vocalize for one hour straight, but doing lip-trills and humming glissandos for two minutes is very easy. So, what you are going to do is break down every habit you’re trying to build into a simple, two-minute task. Why is this helpful? Well, it’s important to make SHOWING UP FOR YOURSELF a habit, first. Then, you can build on that. “Showing up” can be spending two minutes per day doing simple vocal exercises. Schedule those minutes into your day. Once you’ve done two minutes, you’ve completed the task. However, and this is another benefit of simplifying a habit, you’re more likely to actually start something that only takes two minutes than something that would take half an hour. And once you start (two minutes) you’re most likely to keep going for a little longer than that. (Look at you over achieving!! 🙂 ) So this is basically setting yourself up for success and feeding off of that accomplishment and the positive feeling to come back the next day and do it again.
3. Make the Habit Convenient
So, let’s say you want to work on drinking more water, vocalizing every day, and memorizing lyrics. Set yourself up for success by making these things convenient for you to do. Get a big water bottle, fill it and take it with you EVERYWHERE. When you have the water bottle around you’re more likely to take a sip than if you have to make your way downstairs to the kitchen, get a glass and then drink water.
To make vocalizing more convenient you could do a couple of things:
- Make it a habit to do all types of warm-up exercises (glissandos and fast scales with lip trills, tongue rolls, or closed sounds) while you do chores around the house, go for a walk, run errands, or shower.
- Download the Throga App to your phone (or make your own recordings and have them on your phone) and vocalize with the vocal exercise audio files while working around the house.
Memorize lyrics on your way to work. Listen intently to the music and try to sing along as best as possible. Repeat the song as many times as needed. You will still have to read the lyrics and work on them in the studio, but listening to the song a lot and singing along is a great way to get you started on the memorizing process.
4. Track Your Habits
I don’t know about you, but for me, there’s just something SO satisfying about being able to check things off of a list. You can take any habit tracker and start the first month with the two-minute version of your habits. Believe me, this is IMPORTANT! I know you want to start with a 30-minute session right away. But what happens when you have a stressful week and can’t make it for 30 minutes a couple of days in a row? Start with two minutes! Check each one off once you’re done. Look at your tracker at the end of the month and check your consistency. Were you able to check off the tasks on most days? If not, maybe you can simplify the tasks even more. Or maybe you can find ways to make it even more convenient. There’s also a possibility that you might have to reevaluate the items on your list and consider if you really want them on your list or not. If you were able to check tasks off most days, great! For the second month, you can schedule longer time periods for these tasks. And repeat this process over and over again. Modify items on your list if needed, and find ways to make them part of your daily routine. Add new ones, take old ones out, and adjust according to your needs.
Based on your personality, all of this might sound either very easy to you, which is amazing! Keep going with the track that you have established and that works for you! Or, this might sound intimidating, which is also amazing! Why? Because we seldom grow in a place where we feel comfortable. Here are a few additional tips that can support you in this journey:
Become part of a group of people where these singing habits are a norm. If you surround yourself with people that have a well-established routine that helps them progress in their singing journey, you ask them for advice and they can be your inspiration.
Find an accountability partner. This can be a friend, a family member, or a voice teacher. Talk to this person about your goals and the system you are building and ask them to check in with you every week. This can be an excellent motivation for the days when you don’t feel like doing anything.
Tie your habit to something you do and set visual cues! You’re more likely to remember to do something if it’s in your field of vision. For example, put a post-it note on your mirror to remind you to do glissandos while you wash your hands. Or, put your notes from your voice lesson or the lyrics you want to memorize on your desk so you see them at all times.
Be Kind to Yourself
Lastly, and in my opinion, this is the most important tip I can give you, is to give yourself some grace. We tend to be so hard on ourselves that we often sabotage our own life. If you didn’t get to vocalize one day, it’s okay. This is also why I encourage you to start with a two-minute task. It’s easier to accomplish, and once you have the habit of constantly vocalizing every day for two minutes it will be easier to add 15 minutes and continue to be consistent. After all, you’re not doing this to scold yourself all the time, you’re doing it to get a little better every day. Your rule of thumb can be to never skip two days in a row.
Now go, create a system that allows you to reach your singing goals and get started on building these habits. And if something doesn’t work, don’t be afraid to make changes and adjust. Hint: you won’t know what works for you unless you give it a try. What are you waiting for?